Jake and Zoe have been married for a decade and decide to take a celebratory skiing holiday in the Pyrenees (not the Alps, as some advance cover blurbs are saying). They are caught in a monstrous avalanche, barely survive, and make their way back to their hotel only to find that the entire village has been evacuated. Cut off from the outside world, with every attempt to leave the village blocked by weather or strange twists in geography, the two of them gradually realise that something strange has happened, but is it a curse or a blessing?
The Silent Land is the latest novel by Graham Joyce, the author of the excellent Tooth Fairy. Last year he achieved great success with the acclaimed Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney, and The Silent Land looks set to continue that success. It has already been optioned as a film months ahead of publication, a medium its short length and deeply haunting atmosphere (occasionally reminiscent of McCarthy's The Road) should be a perfect match for.
The Silent Land is atmospheric, compulsively readable and emotionally intense, ranging from being utterly terrifying at one moment to (but never tritely) romantic the next. Jake and Zoe are well-drawn central characters, flawed and convincing in their ordinariness and their reactions at being plunged into a strange place. Joyce also keeps up a gradually increasing tension as increasingly odd events take place, and the reader is invited to put the pieces of the puzzle together before the final answer is revealed in the closing pages.
Complaints are few and paltry. Those who prefer more ambiguity may be disappointed that we are given a final answer at the end (although hardly every mystery is answered) and viewers of a certain British SF TV series may work out what is going on long before the characters do. Otherwise this is a terrific novel.
The Silent Land (*****) is a quiet, intimate portrait of people, relationships and how they are tested by extraordinary circumstances. This could be one of the sleeper hits of the year. The novel is published in the UK on 18 November 2010 and in the USA on 22 March 2011.