Tim Lebbon’s THE SILENCE is a truly spectacular apocalyptic novel, though the premise grinds out a bit in the end.
As a caution, I should point out I’m going to talk about the book fairly comprehensively. People’s opinions of what constitutes a spoiler varies, so read at your own risk.
The story revolves around a family living in the United Kingdom: grandma, who has cancer; mom and dad, parents who love each other but struggle to make everything work; Ally, their tween daughter who became deaf as a result of an accident; and their young son. And the family dog, Otis.
Ally’s a precocious girl with a great sense of wonder about the world. She frequents TV on her tablet looking for interesting stories to document and save as a historical scrapbook. One day, on a science channel, she watches a live broadcast of a team of scientists exploring a cave. It’s an historic event; the scientists had discovered a vast underground tunnel system untouched for millions of years. They expected to find an entirely different ecology, new forms of life …
Unfortunately, that new life finds them. Specifically, the top of the food chain down there–a blind but carnivorous super predator that hunts by sound. I won’t say more about them because they’re fun to discover bit by bit.
The great joy of the book is the simple mounting panic experienced by the family as the creatures spread like locusts, devouring everything in their wake. They decided to leave home and head north to a place that’s quieter, more remote. The harrowing journey takes up most of the book and is a pleasure to read. The realism is spot on–the panic, mistakes, horrible ethical choices, the looming threat of the swarm. I particularly enjoyed the father’s transformation from laid back, almost timid family man to a guy who will do anything to protect his family. Ally uses her tablet to keep tabs on the plague while they travel, providing a nice global view of the horror to balance out the very personal terrors the family experiences.
When the creatures arrive, Ally’s deafness provides a special survival advantage. She and her family know sign language, and they can use it to communicate.
Overall, in my view, Lebbon shows how a great apocalyptic novel can be done. It has a scary and fascinating monster, a realistic collapse of law and order, and, most important, characters you care about and that you want to see somehow survive this.
The end of the book is good, note of hope and all, but in my view it was the only dim spot in an otherwise very bright read. I don’t want to spoil it, of course, but will just say the monsters sort of play themselves out, and the apocalyptic standby–crazy people–take a more important role. I was hoping for something more decisive to happen regarding the monsters, but the novel ends without anything much being concluded.
Recommended read if you’re looking for something juicy in the end of the world.