Here I am, endlessly annoyed that Goodreads does not have the half star option. 3 or 4 stars? WHICH WAY TO GO?
I absolutely loved Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel Sister, as in could not put it down to even eat, read it in one sitting and promptly shoved it in the faces of everybody I knew. I loved it. I loved it so much that when her second novel Afterwards didn’t measure up I kind of wanted to cry a little bit. I had wanted to love it so very badly, and just didn’t. & what a shame, I thought, if Rosamund was just a one hit wonder. Didn’t stop me though, from doing a happy dance earlier this year when I heard that her third novel was due for publication in the summer. That goes to show I guess just how much I really did enjoy Sister – enough that not even a disappointing second novel could dampen my excitement at the revelation of Something New.
The Quality of Silence was published last Thursday; I started it last week and finished it last night. &, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Let’s place it, I think, somewhere between not-as-good-as-Sister but not-as-disappointing-as-Afterwards.
Let’s say, that actually, I really liked it. It’s just, I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to like it, and that makes me sad.
Probably I shouldn’t have been excited about it as I was; probably I shouldn’t have got caught up in all the pre-publication excitement (this book was everywhere I looked, if you missed it then clearly you live on Mars); probably I should have thought to myself ‘now Josephine remember how you felt the last time,’ but I didn’t. I did none of those things. I bought into the crazy and I got caught up in all the ‘SISTER WAS SO GOOD OMG NEW ROSAMUND LUPTON’ thus setting myself up for disappointment.
That’s totally my fault though, because this book was Good. It was good. It was chilling and haunting and very well written – Lupton’s writing is extremely evocative and her desecriptions of the desolate bleakness of an Alaskan winter made me cold to my bones – figuratively speaking not actually: I read this in plus 30 degree temperatures last week, the only thing would that would have made me cold to my bones would have been an ice bath. It’s fast paced but slow-moving and it made me feel kind of…quiet. I don’t know what that means. WHY CAN I NEVER DO WORDS?! It’s a desolate fragile kind of a book I think, it’s cold and lonely and isolating, much like Alaska I guess which, well, it’s pretty bleak because winter in Alaska is not a thing you go into unprepared. Like, ever. It is the very opposite of A Nice Time. It is darker than a dark thing and colder than a cold thing and really, not a place you take a ten year old with just some clothes you got from Go Outdoors or some such. BE PREPARED.
The problem was, that in the beginning at least, it just didn’t grab me. When I read I kind of want to get lost for a while, I want the real world to fade away into nothingness, so that the only world that exists is the one within the pages. That totally happened with Sister. It didn’t seem to be happening here. I mean, when I was reading it, I liked it. The writing is good, and the story engaging, but, when I had to stop reading I was kind of fine with that and I wasn’t itching to go back to it. Example: I was babysitting on Saturday night. Babysitting is always excellent reading time; I knew the girls would all be in bed for 8.30, which gave me approx. 4 hours of uninterrupted book. I could totally have finished this baby, I should have finished it with time to spare. But I didn’t. I took my iPad instead and watched a few episodes of season 6 of House – the Huddy buildup, you remember, be still my heart - I guess that says it all doesn’t it. I decided to rewatch an old tv show rather than finish this book and I was very sad about that fact. You don’t even know much I wanted to love it.
(Lookit them. Still not over it, will never be over it. 'I always want to kiss you.' BRB sobbing forever.)
And then - back to the review despite the distraction of Hugh Laurie and his face - it was also pretty unrealistic. I mean, I’ve watched Ice Road Truckers – everyone’s watched Ice Road Truckers, right? It’s not just me – and I know that driving those mahoosive trucks across frozen Alaska is not easy. You don’t just rock up in Alaska one day and think, yep, I’m gonna drive a truck across a frozen lake now, catch you later. Unless it’s Top Gear. That’s just not a thing that happens. You can’t just grab a big fuck off truck and go for it you know? People die doing this job, people with actual years of experience and knowledge die. I don’t see how, then, Yasmin could just hop on a plane from England with her ten year old Deaf daughter, harness a truck and set off in these awful conditions across a frozen country. & I know that sometimes you have to suspend the belief and I get that people will be saying ‘but it was so beautifully written, so haunting and emotional and gripping and tense so why does that tiny little detail matter’ but it does because without that tiny little detail the whole thing falls apart and that tiny little detail, well, I couldn’t get past it. Perhaps it’s me – and I’m not going to lie, I don’t even know how to open my bonnet. I can’t change a trye, I’ve never even attempted an oil change and I only park in car park spaces that I can drive straight through, I’m not driving across any kind of frozen anything in the dark – but I just, it didn’t feel real, that Yasmin would attempt it, never mind manage it and it bugged me the whole way through.
All of that said though, and despite the fact that the first 40 percent of the book took me almost a week to drag myself through, I read the second 60 percent in two hours last night. Two hours. I don’t know if it was my state of mind, if I was just in a better place for this story, or whether the book just got that much better, but it was like something magically slotted into place and I was turning pages and my heart was racing and I just thought this, this is what I wanted from this book. I even did Ruby's sign for hurrah, I was just that pleased about it. I mean, the whole Yasmin driving this truck through an endless night still niggled at me, but less so somehow because everything else was so much more vivid. The descriptions, of it being so cold that your eyes closed shut, of the howling winds and the snow that could be knee deep in minutes made me snuggle further under my duvet and those two blue headlights that Yasmin can always see in her rearview mirror, slowing and stopping whenever she does but always staying the same distance away made my heart actually race. Suspense, that’s what Lupton is good at, that’s why Sister was so epically good and perhaps why this book took so long to get going: the set-up and the back story, it was nowhere near as gripping as this race (chase) away from the unknown towards God even knows what.
It’s kind of funny actually, because even once the book gets going, even when I was flying through it with my heart in my mouth it still wasn’t an ‘in your face’ kind of thriller, it was more….quietly compelling. Ooh, I like that, yep, that’s what we’ll go with: quietly compelling: layer upon layer of slowly building tension, the almost-terror of being utterly utterly alone and utterly utterly helpless and desperately aware that nobody will ever hear your calls for help is never quite articulated but the whole thing is quietly chilling all the same AND IT'S SO GOOD. Nothing particularly dramatic really happens the whole way through and yet still you find your hands curling into fists and your breath catching, just a little bit. There’s a lot to be said for what goes unsaid here: the isolation, the fear, the way everything that wasn’t inside that cab with them felt like a threat, it was that that built the tension; Lupton’s incredibly atmospheric writing rather than car chases and gun fights and loud confrontation. It was quiet, because Alaska is quiet and Ruby is quiet and it was so so effective.
There’s also this really lovely secondary story of Yasmin’s relationship with her daughter, Ruby. Ruby’s deaf and communicates using Sign Language or an app on her laptop that converts her typed words into speech and vice versa and you want to know a thing? It’s really difficult to talk using sign language when you’re in the darkest place in the world. Yasmin and Ruby’s relationship is complicated and touching: Ruby’s obviously much more comfortable with being Deaf than her mother is, and the way they quietly lock horns over Yasmin’s need for Ruby to ‘use her words’ and ruby's reluctance to use her 'mouth voice' at all made my heart hurt. Beautifully done Rosamund Lupton, high five.
I was a teeny bit disappointed in the ending. It felt rushed and it wasn’t what I expected and I don’t know, I mean I guess I had major trouble suspending reality with this book, because I had exactly the same issue with the Big Twist as I did with the whole Ice Road Trucker element: it was just a bit too far-fetched, it went just a tiny step too far what with – oh, actually that would be a spoiler wouldn’t it. Imma shut up about that.
(Explain to me though how I can read books about post-apocalyptic futures, or about magic and dragons and faeries and trees that come alive and not even question the reality of the situation even one time but I struggle with a book where someone has to drive a truck across a lake. What is wrong in my brain?!)
Anyway, in a nutshell, this still is no Sister but as long as you go into it knowing that then I think it’s defo worth a read and since it's out now, you can go grab a copy.