The human race has faced extinction countless times in fiction, from nuclear holocausts, to invading aliens and even the common cold. If I was going to pick another method of destruction I wouldn’t in a million years have picked blind bat-like creatures that had been trapped safely away from mankind.
At first glance it may seem that Tim Lebbon’s latest novel is a hark back to the monster of the week, dime a dozen horror novels of the 1980s that almost caused the total extinction of the genre. Surely one of Britain’s best exponents of intelligent thoughtful horror, the man who brought us The Thief of Broken Toys, couldn’t have written a paint by the numbers monster novel?
As is normally the case with this type of novel, it’s pesky scientists and adventurers that are the case of our possible destruction. While on a quest to discover new flora and fauna a team of explorers unwittingly release a new, here to undiscovered species, that thanks to evolving in the total absence of light hunts by sound alone.
Removed from the confines of their own ecosystem these creatures explode out of the cave system and do what all good bloodthirsty creatures do, and proceed to take over the planet. Unlike Pinky and the Brain, however, their plan is rather simple, just eat and destroy everything in their path.
Now while this may sound all rather typical of a hundred other monster of the week novels, Tim Lebbon’s writing and perfect pacing ensure that this is no run of the mill monster novel. I hate the term slow burner as it implies that the story is drawn out and rather dull, but this is a fantastic slow burner of a novel. Lebbon bravely reigns in the action, preferring to build tension and more importantly characterisation over a fast paced action set pieces. This is not say that the book lacks these action scenes, but rather than just using the narrative to loosely connect them together. Lebbon uses them as a vicious contrast to the wonderful tension filled, razor edged narrative progression. As well as acting as a contrast, the spacing out of the action scenes also help to keep them fresh, and prevents the novel from becoming one long dull description of people being ripped apart. This results in a story that is full of dread, there is constant feeling when you read this book akin to that feeling you get when you suddenly realise that you are swimming in shark infested waters. You just know that death and destruction is lurking below the surface of the story.
And yet the narrative isn’t even the bravest or strongest part of the book. It is Lebbon’s characters that really make this book stand out. In particular that of our heroine Ally. You see Ally has been deaf ever since a car accident, living a a world without sound it is up to her to lead her family to safety. Ally’s character could so have easily been a gimmick, however Lebbon has clearly got into the mind and soul of our heroine. She is a believable character, flawed, and human this isn’t your all action hero. Instead this is a protagonist that is full of self doubt, doesn’t always make the right choices and sometimes just acts like a child. and that is what I love about this book, she is one of the most rounded and developed protagonists that I have read in a long time. The parts of the story that are told from her perspective are fantastic, you aren’t just told she is deaf, you become totally immersed in her character and fully understand what it means to be deaf in this world. A total triumph of characterisation.
The Silence is a tight, fear inducing novel that has some remarkable scenes of total heartache. As an apocalyptic novel this is right up there with The Stand and Swan Song. The say silence is golden, in this case they are 100% correct.