Extensive cellars of the world’s best wines. Pristine slopes with no other skiers, the lifts at your disposal. A hotel kitchen with an endless supply of food that never spoils. The penthouse room available day in and day out for sleeping and leisure. Paradise calls, such is the tragedy of Graham Joyce’s touching 2010 The Silent Land.
British couple Zoe and Jake have decided to splurge at a four-star French hotel in the Alps, enjoying a week of skiing. Out on the slopes early one morning to get the freshest powder, the unthinkable happens, an avalanche. Jake lucky enough to find shelter among trees, he hears Zoe’s cries, and helps her from the packed snow. Arriving back in the village where their hotel is, however, the couple notice something strange; all lights are on but there are no people. Everything seemingly stuck in a time warp, the pair believe they have been left behind in the aftermath of the avalanche, and settle in to await contact with the outside world once again. At first everything seems wonderful—they have the wine, food, and slopes to themselves. But then they notice the lack of entropy. The fire in the hearth burning endlessly, the two start to question their situation...
Joyce stringing the reader along an invisible line, The Silent Land eventually gets to the bottom of Zoe and Jake’s situation, but not before digging within the characters and presenting them whole and honestly for the humans they are to the reader, and the experiences which lead them to that point in time. Thus, while it’s satisfying to have the couple’s situation explained in the final chapter, the true impression of the book is derived from Zoe and Jake, their marriage, and their individual histories. Given said explanation, it’s likewise quite fair to view the whole experience as a metaphor—for what, I cannot say as I do not want to spoil the story. Suffice to say, the resolution is highly touching given how intimately we have come to know the characters. Transcending the plot devices in action, the reader walks away with a satisfying milieu of positive and negative emotions.
Thus, if The Silent Land is anything, it is aware. Throughout the story Joyce remains cognizant of the fact its simple premise cannot be excessively milked without the reader losing getting lost in the mystery when the real focus is on the characters. Overall Zoe and Jake’s story, or perhaps better stated ‘experience’, is contained within a paucity of pages, meaning the emotional impact is a result of focusing on the key points of character that drive tension and momentum, rather than mundane worldbuilding or plotting. One of those stories that just sticks in the brain for the people whose lives we vicariously live inside, don’t be fooled by the simple premise.