The Silence by Tim Lebbon
In the darkness of a underground cave, blind creatures hunt by sound. Then there is light, voices, and they feed… Swarming from their prison, the creatures thrive; to whisper is to summon death. As the hordes lay waste to Europe, a girl watches to see if they will cross the sea. Deaf for years, she knows how to live in silence; now, it is her family’s only chance of survival. To leave their home, to shun others. But what kind of world will be left?
For me the best, most effective horror comes when ordinary people are forced into extraordinary inexplicable circumstances. How they react, and the choices that they make are endlessly fascinating. Ally is an average girl. She has many of the same problems, hopes and dreams as any other teen you’re likely to meet. Her parents, her grandmother and her brother are much the same. They are normal people who you would more than likely walk by on the street. When a plague of vicious creatures, quickly nicknamed vesps, are unleashed on an unsuspecting world the family are forced to confront a horror that is so entirely alien it threatens to destroy them all.
The descriptions of the stresses and strains that are placed on the family unit are what make this writing so riveting. Ally’s dad, Huw, tries to be strong for his wife and his children but he is just as adrift as them all. It falls to Ally to teach the others how to get by. What was previously viewed as a disability now makes her the perfect leader. Ally has spent her entire life living in silence. She already has the necessary skills required that they will all now need in order to survive.
Each new chapter begins with a short media report or a snippet gleaned from social media. The role of the Internet plays a key role in Ally’s life. In many respects it is her window to the rest of the world, and it also plays a key role in helping shape the reader’s interpretation of events. As society collapses and the United Kingdom’s infrastructure begins to fail, things like electrical power, wi-fi and 3G start to disappear*. Known as “The Grey”, these areas of the country begin as the exception, but swiftly become the norm. There is a real sense that as the Grey continues to spread, there is little chance that this everyday part of our lives can be restored. Once gone, it will be lost forever.
Of course the vesps are not the only monsters to be avoided in the new order. When our world is coming to an end, the old axiom that society is only three hot meals away from total anarchy was never more true. Ally and her family start to shun contact with others whenever they see them. More people has the potential to mean more noise, and the vesps are always listening.
Lebbon’s latest has a classic old school horror sensibility. It could so easily have become a kitschy gorefest, but he deftly shies away from that. Instead, this is a powerful exploration of how quickly society can fall apart. From the very beginning, there is an ever-growing sense of impending doom. Each new page continues the countdown to the arrival of the vesps in the UK. Characters ultimately realise that irrespective of the final outcome of events, the world will be forever changed.
Oh God, I’d love to see this novel adapted for the screen. The use of sound, or lack of it, could be used to such great effect. I’d be insanely curious as to how this could work when married together with a striking visuals.
The books ends on a cautiously optimistic note, and I like the thought that Ally and her family are starting to accept this brave new world that they find themselves in. There is little denying that there is a bleak undercurrent flowing through the narrative of this novel but there is far more to proceedings than just that. It is a truly talented author who can find flashes of beauty amidst horror, but Lebbon manages this on multiple occasions. The relationships between all the family members are wonderfully realised. The chances they are prepared to take for one another and the lengths that they will go to in order to survive feel completely genuine. Like Day of the Triffids, Swan Song or Blood Crazy this novel is destined to become one of my apocalyptic favourites. I’ve dithered around with this review because I knew that anything I wrote would be unlikely to adequately express how much I enjoyed this novel. The best compliment I can give? I know that I’ll definitely read this book again.
The Silence is published by Titan Books and is available now. Highly recommended.
*This is my own personal nightmare. What is a blogger without the Internet? I’d be standing on a street corner somewhere shouting at passers-by. I’d imagine I would be attacked and eaten by the vesps within approximately two minutes.