The Silent Land: Not as great as I’ve come to expect from Joyce

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGraham Joyce The Silent LandThe Silent Land by Graham Joyce

Jake and Zoe are enjoying a ski trip in the French Pyrenées when, during an early morning ski run, they are trapped and buried alive by an avalanche. Miraculously, they manage to dig out of the snow and survive the ordeal, but when they finally make it back to their hotel, they discover that the place has been abandoned. What’s more, the entire village seems devoid of life. Has the area been evacuated, or is there something more mysterious going on? With no telephone or internet access, and the awful possibility that another avalanche will engulf the entire hotel, they are forced to explore their silent and empty surroundings…

As a big fan of Graham Joyce, author of such modern fantasy masterworks as The Tooth Fairy, Requiem, and How to Make Friends with Demons, I was very excited to get my hands on his newest novel The Silent Land. I found the book to be good but not nearly as great as I’ve come to expect from this author.

The main problem with the novel is its structure: weighing in at about 270 pages, the novel consists of over 250 pages of occasionally repetitive and monotonous build-up. After the shock of the avalanche and rescue, Jake and Zoe’s explorations in the snowy isolation surrounding their ski resort are at first fascinating, but once it becomes clear that they are indeed isolated in an otherwise abandoned part of the Pyrenées, the monotony gradually begins to drag the novel down. Zoe occasionally witnesses mysterious events that provide a brief thrill, but we’re never sure if they’re real or imagined (which is a typical ambiguity for Graham Joyce novels). The couple wine and dine luxuriously in the resort’s empty restaurants, try to escape and find other people, and confront the difficulties in their relationship, but there’s just not a whole lot that changes until we reach the final revelation. Somewhat appropriately, it feels as if the entire novel is frozen until the very end. To top it off, many readers will probably have a good idea of where the author is going with this novel, so the long build-up becomes a waiting game to see if you’re right about what’s really going on.

To be fair, there’s also a lot to love in The Silent Land. Graham Joyce’s prose is, as usual, perfectly lovely. As Jake and Zoe explore their surroundings, there are a few mysterious encounters that are genuinely thrilling and will take on new meaning as you progress through the novel. The descriptions of skiing on the abandoned snowy slopes of the French Pyrenées are gorgeous. The ending will make you reconsider the entire preceding story in a completely different light.

Finally, Jake and especially Zoe are complex characters who face an inexplicable and terrifying event. They make the best of the situation while also dealing with their own personal issues. Their reactions and emotions run the gamut, from comical to contemplative, from panic to elation and everything in between. As characters, Jake and Zoe are mostly defined by their relationship with each other, rather than as individuals, and the fact that they’re completely isolated in such a stressful situation makes The Silent Land an occasionally claustrophobic reading experience, with every emotion seemingly amplified by the empty landscape surrounding them.

In the end, The Silent Land’s main weakness is that it simply takes too long to get to the final revelation, and even though that revelation is very powerful, it doesn’t take away from the fact that everything that came before could have been tightened up significantly. Already short at about 270 pages, it feels like it would have worked better in an even shorter (novella?) format. Graham Joyce is a master at his craft and one of my favorite authors, but The Silent Land is not his strongest work, so if you’re new to this author, check out The Tooth Fairy or How to Make Friends with Demons first. On the strength of those books, you may end up reading The Silent Land later on anyway!

The Silent Land — (2011) Publisher: Award-winning novelist and cult favorite Graham Joyce transports readers to a mysterious world of isolation and fear with a hypnotically dark story about a young couple trapped by an avalanche in the remote French Alps… a daring and powerful novel about love, loss, and rebirth. In the French Alps around Chamonix, a young married couple is buried under a flash avalanche while skiing. Miraculously, Jake and Zoe dig their way out from under the snow — only to discover the world they knew has been overtaken by an eerie and absolute silence. Their hotel is devoid of another living soul. Cell phones and land lines are cut off. An evacuation as sudden and thorough as this leaves Jake and Zoe to face a terrifying situation alone. They are trapped by the storm, completely isolated, with another catastrophic avalanche threatening to bury them alive… again. And as the couple begin to witness unsettling events neither one can ignore, they are forced to confront a frightening truth about the silent land they now inhabit. Award-winning author Graham Joyce has written a mysterious masterpiece, a tour de force that will thrill fans of Peter Straub and the hit television show Lost.

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STEFAN RAETS (on FanLit's staff August 2009 — February 2012) reads and reviews science fiction and fantasy whenever he isn’t distracted by less important things like eating and sleeping. In February 2012, he retired from FanLit to focus on his blog Far Beyond Reality.

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