Graham Joyce’s horror thriller The Silent Land was published in Britain late last year and is now being released on this side of the Pond. The book has received generally good reviews, and it has strong word-of-mouth. I, on the other hand, have mixed feelings about the novel.
Silent Land tells the story of Jake and Zoe, a couple in their early thirties (reviews inevitably describe them as “young,” which I guess implies something about the presumed readership). They are on a ski vacation when an avalanche buries them. Jake rescues Zoe, and they return to their hotel to find that all of the people are gone. More disconcerting, candles refuse to burn down, and food left out on counters refuses to rot. Something is very wrong. They try to leave town, but every path out curves back into town, like a Mobius strip. After a while (and this gives nothing away since the characters discuss it themselves early on) Jake and Zoe begin to assume they are dead and in some kind of limbo, one governed by their memories of their earthly lives. Eventually, they discover the truth.
Here is where my mixed feelings come in. The story is told with an economical, but controlled style that effortlessly moves the narrative along. The characters are, if somewhat stereotyped, also well-written and engaging. The heart of the novel relies on the emotional connection of the characters and questions about love, marriage, and devotion. So skillful is the storytelling that it almost made me not notice that the central 150 pages of the 250 page book were essentially filler that could have been skipped with no violence done to the premise. Against the positives of the writing weighs the negative of unoriginality. Anyone who has seen the pilot episode of the Twilight Zone, “Where Is Everybody?”, or the British version of Life on Mars will find no surprises in the narrative. In fact, the whole story pretty much hinges on combining elements of those two TV shows. The ending to the novel stacks up clichés, leaving the whole somewhat less than its parts.
Nevertheless, The Silent Land is wildly entertaining and moves along with a brisk efficiency. It was fun to read, but effervescent. Like the twilight land through which the characters move, the book itself fades away into our collective memory, merging with all the other versions of this story that have come before, until, finally, they can no longer be distinguished.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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