The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

The book is mostly set in Alaska during the sunless days of winter, so almost the whole story takes place in the dark. Within the darkness - stretching for mile upon unending mile - is an unrelieved snowy waste of ice and blizzard which you would expect to form a barren and boring setting for the story, but doesn’t.  No, the darkness and snow provide an amazingly impactful background, terrifying, wild and dangerous but also beautiful, awesome.

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A mother and her daughter travel through this tunnel of energetic bleakness to find her husband, believed dead by everyone but them.

The daughter is profoundly deaf - conversation is via sign or a computer type-to-speech program. The potential of this to inhibit the flow of the story was enormous - it ought to have been distracting and laborious, like watching film with sub-titles. But it wasn’t. By alternating the point of view between mother and daughter the reader is privy to both their thoughts, their individual take on unfolding events. Conversation flows, understanding blooms.

Within the darkness and silence the bright bubble of the truck cab is all their world and ours. Action, relationship, character and story all shrink to that tiny, vital world. It is polished and vibrant and multi-faceted, like a precious jewel. The story is tremendously exciting; a predatory fracking company, the malign presence of a tanker stalking them through the tundra, mysterious emails depicting strangely mutilated animals and the sharp grief of loss. But the important thing about it is the growing understanding between mother and daughter as they both come to terms with her deafness and her choice not to use her physical voice.

While sight and sound are all-but excluded from the book, other senses crowd in to take their place. The book has a sensory richness I did not expect and which the writer expertly extracted from the constraints she placed upon herself. The impact of cold - intense, extreme cold - is beautifully and powerfully depicted, also the impression of the hugeness of the invisible landscape, the claustrophobia of the cab, the comfort of a friendly voice on the CB radio.

Towards the end the story bursts into action, but rather than being a relief I found these chapters rather stilted and mechanical. They wrapped up the story - villains revealed, mysteries solved, questions answered - and had some pointed things to say about the fracking industry which I guess we should all consider very seriously. But, for me, the story had already concluded. I could easily have done without the more conventional action-packed denouement or the political inferences. The crux of this book was all in the title.