editor's choice

An Alaskan epic – Rosamund Lupton’s The Quality of Silence


ROSAMUND LUPTON’S NEW NOVEL, THE QUALITY OF SILENCE, opens in Fairbanks Airport, Alaska, where 10-and-a-half-year-old Ruby and her mother, Yasmin, have just landed, expecting to be met by Matt, Ruby’s wildlife filmmaker father. Instead, they find the police waiting and Yasmin is told the devastating news that Matt has been killed in a ‘catastrophic fire’, which has destroyed Anaktue, a tiny village in the north of the country, where he was last based; the wedding ring that Yasmin is handed seemingly proof of Matt’s demise. Yasmin refuses to believe Matt is dead and thus begins her epic journey across Alaska, with her daughter, to uncover the truth.

9780349408125 (1)From the outset, Ruby and Yasmin are judged, and to a certain degree written off, by outsiders, based purely on their physical attributes. They appear one dimensional in these predominantly male eyes. Ruby comments, early on in the book, that the usual response to them is for people to ‘go all mushy. Dad thinks it’s the combo of beautiful Mum and little deaf girl (me!) that makes them like that – like we’re in a movie on a Sunday afternoon.’ Of course, that’s far from the truth: Yasmin is a physicist by training, who has had to hide her ‘nerdiness’ for most of her life, and Ruby is a fiercely bright young girl, part of the ‘Gifted and Talented’ programme at school.

Although Ruby is totally deaf, she uses sign – her hand voice – and social media to communicate her unique and often surprisingly sophisticated observations. She ‘sees’, ‘touches’ and ‘tastes’ words and conveys this rather poignantly through tweets on her account, Words Without Sounds.

ANXIETY: Looks like a chessboard with the squares quickly moving about; feels sweaty and shivery; tastes like prickly ice-cream,’ she writes as she waits to find out what has happened to her dad.

And Ruby is anxious because her mother hasn’t been totally honest with her about what’s happened. Still, she knows something is wrong.

From the moment she arrives in Alaska, Yasmin is treated as neurotic and delusional; a grieving woman who refuses to come to terms with the death of her husband when the ‘evidence’ says otherwise. And yet, Lupton cleverly drops clues into the story that make the reader wonder if there’s some validity to Yasmin’s unwavering conviction that Matt is still alive – ‘the perfect eternal circle’ of his wedding ring found glinting in decimated Anaktue, for example, and the seemingly suspicious behaviour of the men who seem to do everything possible to stop Yasmin and Ruby from reaching the north.

Fuelled by love and also, to some extent, guilt, Yasmin forges on, convincing Adeeb Azizi, a refugee truck driver, against his better judgement, to take them both on a road trip to the north, through impossibly difficult terrain and weather conditions. When the driver falls ill, Yasmin and Ruby soldier on in his vehicle, earning both the respect of the truck drivers who had initially refused to take them up themselves and who later help them survive a bitter storm and treacherous road conditions – and also a stalker driver, who may be real or a figment of Yasmin’s imagination.

Lupton presents Alaska as almost another character in the story. A place of extreme beauty, weather and landscape, it engulfs Yasmin and Ruby from the moment they land, first in the whiteness of ‘snow on snow, covering what had once been’ in Fairbanks and later in the endless bitter, biting black of the remote north, shrouding secrets and lies.

Lupton seamlessly shifts narratives, locations and even time to tell her story. She blends Ruby’s charming, often funny inner voice, littered with insightful comments and interspersed with tweets, with Yasmin’s more serious narrative, as she strives to find her missing husband and deal with her feelings of inadequacy, guilt and above all, the deep love she feels for Matt and also for the child who she doesn’t necessarily always ‘hear’. The strong bonds between Yasmin, Ruby and Matt are revealed in the minutiae of Ruby’s bubbling chatter and Yasmin’s quiet recollections. Ruby keeps her father alive through the stories he told her, often as she fell asleep with ‘his fingers still making words in front of my eyelids’. Through Ruby we gain insight into their relationship and also into the indigenous life and culture and the coldly beautiful and relentlessly unforgiving environment of Alaska.

This is an extraordinarily good book – and although immediate comparisons might be to Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1992) – not least because of the snow – it brings to our minds, at least, Keri Hulme’s stunning novel The Bone People (1984), and Steven Spielberg’s iconic TV movie Duel (1971), in tone and feel. It is an extremely visual book, which is probably no surprise given that Lupton was for many years a scriptwriter. And, no doubt, someone will soon pick up the TV/film rights, if they haven’t already.

The Quality of Silence builds on Lupton’s previous successes as a novelist. She writes effortlessly, creating an Alaska that is authentic and chilling, a plot that is simply gripping and two perhaps unlikely protagonists who you have no choice other than to root for from the beginning.

Read the book. And try not to shiver.


The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton, published in hardback on 2 July 2015 by Little, Brown. Price: £14.99.


Many thanks to Clara Diaz at Little, Brown, for including The Literary Shed in The Quality of Silence’s Blog Tour. Please do read the other reviews on the tour, detailed below.


The Quality of Silence blog tour poster


See also: Rosamund Lupton’s website


Image and text credits: Images courtesy of Clara Diaz at Little, Brown. Quotation text: Copyright © 2015 by Rosamund Lupton, pages 7, 24, 4, 19, 8.


Notice: Please note the images and quoted text in this article are used for promotional purposes only (see above).

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