Monday, May 09, 2011

Book Review - The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

The Silent Land: A Novel
Graham Joyce
262 pages
ISBN: 978-0-385-53380-5


*** NOTE: This review contains THE SPOILER for this novel – Read no further if you have not finished or intend on reading this book. ***

     I wanted to like this book. I really did. Graham Joyce is a very good writer, has an elegant voice, and has written some very entertaining stories (i.e. “The Tooth Fairy” and “Requiem” among others.) But this one I just don’t “get.” Everywhere I look I see four and five star reviews for it. On,, and many independent blogs I see the same lofty praise. High-profile writers esteem its virtues publically. Write praiseworthy reviews. But, is this book truly deserving of all the admiration? Unfortunately, in my opinion, I have to say no. The Silent Land is a mediocre read, at best. The climax, which builds from the opening scene, does not deliver the surprise and shock that it should. While Joyce’s final message is a powerful, even spiritual, one it’s also belabored and the delivery method, rather than flowing with prose, drags the plot along. The central idea, the “surprise” ending, is in itself as cliché now as the phrase “I see dead people!”

     Here are some of the reasons why I think this story fails.

     A. Too much orchestration. By that I mean many of the scenes are dramatic enactments pre-staged to make the final payoff more spectacular. To give it that “wow” factor. Sadly, most readers will figure out at least half the ending by page fifty. It doesn’t help much that the reader is often sent on a tangent to deflect from the book’s conclusion which to me ends up reading more like a bad Hallmark movie than a suspenseful thriller.

     B. Giving the pay-off away (over and over again). Subtle vignettes of death abound in this story. Towards the end of the book the story takes a step sideways as the final days of the main characters father’s are recounted. While powerful stories in themselves I have to wonder why they needed to be added here. Joyce flirts with the “shocking” climax of the story over and over again which makes it anything but impactful when we finally do reach it.

     C. Inaccurate advertising. The book is billed as “intrigue,” that will “thrill readers” and is a “dark suspense novel.” I found little intrigue and even less suspense in this book. As a matter of fact it felt more like a love story than a thriller to me. I believe Joyce was attempting to build tension and suspense as the story progressed but it never quite came to fruition. The story lagged (and I lost interest) in a few places and the plot suffered because of it.

     D. The two main characters are somewhat one-dimensional, banal, and under-developed.

     There is very little that is new, unique, or exceptionally creative here so the best I can rate The Silent Land by Graham Joyce is a low three. And so I shall.

     “Near perfect?” “Tour De Force?” These are just a few of the venerable notes I’ve seen in reviews for The Silent Land.

     Scratching my head in amazement, I have to wonder why. 

     Perhaps I should stick to SF&F Speculative Fiction…

3 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Author’s Website

Author Wiki Page

 Author Page on Worlds Without End

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