How far would you go for those you love? Arriving at an airport halfway across the globe – a last way station in a remote part of the world – Yasmin finds she would give, do or say anything to convince the authorities to go out looking for her husband Matt. He has gone missing after a disastrous fire reportedly destroyed the isolated Inupiat village he was staying at for a wildlife film-shoot. Everybody is telling her that no-one survived, but a silent phone-call – and her own heartfelt denial – compel her to believe otherwise. She has to: if not for her, then for their ten-year-old daughter Ruby. Yasmin knows that the road to Deadhorse is no place for a young girl, but as no-one is able to look after Ruby because of her lack of hearing, mother and daughter head off into the wilderness together. Pushed on by love as well as fear to close the many miles between Fairbanks and the desolate winter beyond the Arctic circle, Yasmin and Ruby brave the unfathomably dark wastelands of Northern Alaska.
During her ordeal, Yasmin discovers that to truly salvage her relationship with Matt, she will first need to resolve her mental picture of the man she fell in love with so long ago, as well as come to terms with the woman she used to be. All the while, she is only vaguely conscious of the danger that stalks them through the endless night, keeping her from reuniting with her family.
The Quality Of Silence has a confident immediacy about it that is uniquely captivating, and demands your personal involvement in a way that is surprisingly endearing. First of all, Yasmin makes for a very convincing flesh-and-blood heroine, with strong emotions and a very believable story that fuels this character-driven plot. Her relentless conviction and strength of character in the face of nerve-shattering emotional twists of fate make for a strong and well-rounded role model that is impossible not to like – and to feel for.
Moreover, the real emotional force of Lupton’s novel stems from the beautifully crafted character of Ruby. Precocious, quirky, and incredibly perceptive, the young girl undergoes a startlingly soulful character arc; moving from indomitable innocence and hopefulness to playing a pivotal role in the story’s switchback conclusion. Lupton succeeds in breathing life into her creation, skilfully drawing the reader in through Ruby’s unique and perfectly genuine perspective. Rather than treading into the common mistake of starring a handicapped person to be an easy vehicle for the reader’s sympathy – because I feel the introduction of a disabled young character is too often abused to guilt-trip us into caring about just any old story – Lupton has an actual story to tell with Ruby. And it’s wonderful!
Here’s a fully-formed young character who has very real issues to deal with; ranging from trouble fitting in at school, to vainly trying to fulfill her parents’ psychological needs, while trying to make sense of the confusing world around her in a way that fits her developing perspective – all universally relatable issues to children and young adults. The fact that she happens to be deaf, while integral to the character’s life, does in no way encapsulate her reason for being in the story. To me, that is a fresh and welcome approach, handled with profound wisdom and care.
Ruby’s character is bright, sensitive and courageous and she travels along a character arc that mirrors that of her mother. Whereas Yasmin has to confront her fears and failings by allowing herself to break down in the face of the sheer impossibility and extreme nature of her circumstances, Ruby has to grow beyond her innate innocence fast, in order to safeguard her parents’ survival – as well as her own. Where Yasmin has to look for inner completeness by allowing the abandoned child within her to surface, Ruby travels in the opposite direction, asserting herself as a force in her own right, presenting us with a brilliant coming of age story.
Surprisingly, it is the very setting of The Quality Of Silence that makes up the third major character of the book. The frozen wasteland Lupton carves out is simply majestic; beautiful, disorienting and cruel all at once. Without slowing down the story, the amount of research that has gone into writing this hair-raising road trip through Northern Alaska is evident and it pays off. As a reader, you are not invited but rather sucked into this vast alien landscape of silence and darkness, that nevertheless feels very terrestrial, offering us a glimpse of a forgotten corner of our planet that few of us will ever experience. Throughout, the sheer narrative weight of this foreboding and stunning environment is employed to its full and powerful effect.
Combining all this with the needle-sharp reality of a great and surprising plot with the subtle overtones of a thriller, The Quality Of Silence is an understated masterpiece that should be read to be believed.