Marcus Gipps's Reviews > The Silent Land

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce
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's review
Sep 13, 2010

really liked it
Read in September, 2010 — I own a copy

I do like a bit of Graham Joyce. Twoc ( is one of the best teen books I've ever read (although to call it a teen book is to underestimate just how good it is), and his most recent, The Memoirs of a Master Forger ( was very well done as well. And The Tooth Fairy ( is bloody brilliant. I didn't get on quite so well with The Limits of Enchantment (, but that wasn't at all bad. So yes, I'm a fairly big fan of Joyce's. So a proof of this turning up was always something that was going to make me happy!

Now having said all of that, it seems clear that this is a bit of a departure (in some respects) for Joyce. It looks - well, it looks a lot more commercial, to be honest. According to the blurb on the back of the book, it has already been sold as a Hollywood film. I know that doesn't for a moment mean that it will get made, but god it feels like it was written with that purpose in mind. I don't actually believe that - Joyce isn't that cynical - and I'm happy that it has happened (he deserves to do fantastically well) but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was trying to be a 'filmic' novel. It isn't, I should make clear, in any way 'not' a Joyce book - it feels like his prose, and it fits in with his previous work. It just seems a bit more mainstream, for want of a better word (again, I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing).

It's also very straightforward, on the surface at least. Basically a two-hander, our lead characters are young, good-looking, very much in love and happy to have lots of sex. Stranded in an abandoned mountain village after an avalanche, they try to escape but can't find a way out. Then the creepy things start happening... It seemed fairly obvious to me what was going on quite early in the novel, but Joyce throws in enough blind alleys and red herrings for me to be somewhat unsure until the very end. In the end, though, the plot (tense though it is) isn't really the thing that works here - instead, the prose and characterisation are what makes the book stand out. I think there are a couple of flaws in the portrayal of the two leads (although it could be argued that the dissonance is intentional on the part of the author), but they are so enjoyable to spend time with that it isn't a problem. They shouldn't be quite as likeable as they are, what with their happy lives and skiing and ability to get on under pressure, but you'd have to have a pretty hard heart not to warm to them, and to be scared for them.

Having said that the plot isn't the main thing, that isn't to say that it doesn't work. It just doesn't really have the weight to it that one might expect from a Joyce book. They get trapped, they walk around, things get creepy, and then everything gets resolved in a way in which I'm not going to give away here, obviously. There's a great time to be had as it happens, and the tension really does ratchet up and up, but there you go. As I said, filmic. It also helps that the various odd incidents start off slightly odd and get properly creepy, and are very hard to explain as they happen. Joyce isn't cheating, though - he largely has a way to justify everything, and if I have one criticism, it would only be that I would have liked a slightly more open ending. Instead things get wrapped up - not neatly, not happily, not unhappily - but more tidily then I expected. Well worth a read, though, and I hope it sells loads of copies.

I read a proof during the end of August and the beginning of September. The book is out in November, ISBN: 9780575083899.
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