THE SILENT LAND
Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Zoe and Jake are on a skiing holiday in the Pyrenees when they are caught in an avalanche. Jake manages to dig his wife out and they go back to their hotel, but find it deserted, together with the rest of the village. They assume this is because of an avalanche warning and wait for rescue, but no one comes. So they decide to make their own way down the mountain but each time they try they are frustrated. Their compass doesn't work away from the village and whatever road they follow brings them back to the village. Their telephone calls for help, whether locally or to friends in Britain, go unanswered.
At this point most readers will probably have inferred, correctly, what has happened. There have been many novels and plays with a similar theme, so there is no great originality in the basic idea. What matters is how well it is handled, and here Joyce does well. The writing is assured: the couple's loving relationship is evoked vividly but without sentimentality, and the snowy mountain landscape is depicted strongly but not too obtrusively. The weakest parts, I thought, were two flashback chapters in which the deaths of Zoe's and Jake's fathers were described; this was well enough done but there was inevitably a temporary slackening in the narrative flow. (Perhaps I don't much care for flashbacks.)
The couple resign themselves to their situation, enjoy the food and expensive wine that is at their disposal, and make love a lot. Events are seen almost entirely through Zoe's eyes, and she seems to be willing to continue this idyllic existence indefinitely. But something tells her that this is not going to happen. Signs of impending change begin to appear, and Zoe gets mysterious calls on her mobile phone that she cannot understand.
It is not too difficult to guess how the story will end some time before we reach the final chapter, but that is not a criticism. The conclusion arises naturally from what has gone before, and, in retrospect, one can see well-placed subtle pointers to what will happen: an incentive to read the book again.