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THE SILENT LAND
By GRAHAM JOYCE (Doubleday; 2011)

What we have here is essentially a TWILIGHT ZONE episode in novel form, albeit an extremely classy and assured one. The author, after all, is England’s brilliant Graham Joyce, who gives this tale a terrifically literate veneer.

     It involves Jake and Zoë, a married couple vacationing in the French Alps. While skiing one day the two are caught in an avalanche. Both are initially trapped but manage to claw their way out of the mass of snow, only to find themselves in a landscape identical to the one they left but lacking any people.

     Jake decides early on that they’re in the land of the dead, which initially seems a reasonable enough explanation. Nothing else, he thinks, could adequately explain the odd properties of the universe J & Z inhabit, in which food and drink are abundant and machinery works despite the total absence of any people. Further strangeness is evident in the appearances of a long-dead dog once owned by Zoë and spectral figures seen by Zoë but never by Jake. The behavior of the protagonists is likewise quite odd, with J & Z exhibiting an abnormal sex drive and never straying far from the ski lodge where they’re staying, despite the fact that both seem free to go wherever they please.

     As things grow increasingly hallucinatory it becomes clear that Jake’s explanation for this odd reality isn’t entirely accurate. Unfortunately the true rationale for all the weirdness, revealed in the final pages, is something of a disappointment, utilizing as it does one of the most over-familiar clichés in horror history (popularized by a certain Ambrose Bierce story).

     Graham Joyce’s prose is crisp and erudite, and makes some pertinent points about the nature of love and devotion, and also of death, with the protagonists are forced to confront the stark realities of the latter during their time in the Silent Land. The whole thing, as I’ve come to expect from Joyce, never less than completely absorbing, but the material is ultimately too thin to do his artistry justice. 

     

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