The Silence of the Sea

I had to stop reading the Silence of the Sea (by Yrsa Sigurdardottir) about half way through. Not because I didn’t like it, I was absolutely hooked, but because it was completely, utterly terrifying and my only time for reading was last thing before bed.

I am normally a very pragmatic person; I don’t believe in ghosts, I’m not scared of the dark, I am not easily spooked. But as I turned my light off I could have sworn I heard someone breathing in my room… I tried to go to sleep but lasted 5 minutes before I got up the courage to turn the light back on and turn around to make sure there was nobody in the room. I picked up my triathlon magazine and resolved to finish Silence of the Sea at the weekend.

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It is an Icelandic crime fiction novel which tells the story of what happens when a luxury motor yacht crashes into the harbour in Iceland, with nobody on board.

Aegir, his wife and their twin daughters are in Portugal on a holiday while Aegir sorts out the paperwork for a luxury yacht his bank have just repossessed. When one of the yacht crew is injured, Aegir agrees to help sail the boat back to Iceland, with his family onboard instead of flying home. A trip of a lifetime. But from the moment of cast-off things feel slightly wrong – the crew resent having a family onboard, the yacht has a reputation for spooky occurrences, and the whole family feel horribly seasick. A surprise discovery sets off a chain of events that end with the boat arriving, empty, in Reykjavik Harbour.

Interspersed with the unfolding of the events of the boat are chapters following Thora Gudmundsdottir, an Icelandic lawyer employed by the parents of Aegir to find out what really happened.

The tension is built slowly and spookily as with every chapter on the boat the fear picks up amongst the characters and also amongst the readers. It’s a clever plot device to build suspense – knowing that ultimately everyone on board will disappear but not knowing how or why.

The wonderful For Books’ Sake described the book like thus:

This novel is an example of true perfection. The dialogue is crisp and believable, the plot both terrifying and tense, the characters natural and engaging. The sea itself becomes personified as a background character, casually stalking the investigation and punctuating the narrative with a dialogue which is both alien and strangely understandable to the reader. If anyone ever tells you that crime fiction is engaging but poorly written, give them this book as proof to the contrary.

However, I can’t fully agree with the first sentence. I thought Silence of the Sea was fantastic, was really gripped, absolutely terrified, and really enjoyed it. However … it wasn’t perfect.. It is not a 5* read mainly due to the last chapter. So many books I have read recently seem to hit an issue towards the end where it is as if they are approaching a word limit and are trying to wrap everything up quickly. This is definitely what happened here, so quickly that I almost missed it! Having one person describe to another what happened is a quick way of tying up loose ends but is not the most dramatic or interesting of endings.

Another issue was one that you get often in books that have been translated into English – the language can be slightly stilted and conversations especially don’t run as naturally as they do in real speech. There were a few jarring moments lie this in the book where the language didn’t flow as smoothly as it might have done, but nothing to really distract from the story or the suspense.

So – would I recommend the Silence of the Sea? Yes, definitely. Although it has its limitations, it is well worth a read. Just not right before bedtime!

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4 comments

  1. Thanks so much for recommending this. You completely sold me on the novel with your first paragraph alone. I have to read this now, as I haven’t found anything truly gripping and chilling for a long time.

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