Apres Ski or Afterlife? – The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

I enjoyed reading ‘The Silent Land’, but now only a few days later, I’m struggling to remember much about it. Certainly it is very easy read; a book that draws you in and propels you towards its conclusion, but the details of its events are already hazy.

The novel’s central premise is not a new one. Two skiers are caught in an avalanche. After digging themselves free they return to their hotel only to find it, and the rest of the town, entirely deserted. Assuming the village has been evacuated, Zoe and Jake try to make their way down the mountain to the next settlement only to find themselves back where they started. No matter what method of transport they use, they cannot leave. Soon they notice that food doesn’t rot, and candles don’t burn, bringing them to the conclusion that they are both dead.

Since Jake makes this observation in the first quarter of the novel, it is obvious that this isn’t the full story. Zoe and Jake are happily married, but like all marriages there are tensions between them, and days of enforced seclusion starts to take its toll, affecting them both in different ways. Zoe has a secret that she was going to reveal on the trip, but should she still do so? When is going to be the right time? Is there any point if they are dead? Joyce sets up the dynamic nicely and as the couple both start having hallucinations, the bounds of their love and trust are put to the test. Their memories of events since the accident become jumbled, as do recollections from before, and both characters become increasingly disoriented. There is a palpable sense of uncertainty and paranoia, that compels you to read on, and the subject of marriage and love is handled with such tenderness, it is easy to become wrapped in the emotional side of the story.
Less compelling is the dialogue, and actions of his characters. Jake in particular, doesn’t talk like a real person, and whilst much of what goes unsaid between the two is very good, in conversation Zoe and Jake’s don’t seem like a married couple. Without wanting to give too much away, Zoe’s excessive consumption of alcohol doesn’t marry at all with some of her other actions, and for me it destroyed the power of one of the novel’s central themes. The way the novel is constructed there are very few plausible outcomes, so the novel’s conclusion is all too easy to predict. That said, Joyce does deliver an emotive and fitting finale.
‘The Silent Land’ is a readable mystery-cum-ghost story and one of the better ‘isolated by snow’ thrillers I have read (which is a surprisingly large number). Through flawed, it is entertaining, often reminiscent of a good Stephen King novel, but ultimately it is all too forgettable. It’s less than a week now since I read the ‘Silent Land’ much like the half-dreamed hallucinations of its characters, I’m struggling to recall what happened, and I have feeling that within a month the whole thing will fade to white…

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