I enjoyed this book, a lot. Don’t let the premise put you off (mother of a family dies but somehow ‘remains’ out in the ether somewhere, able to narrate her family members’ lives and her own memories of them as she watches them grieve and heal over the ensuing years). Sounds terrible but actually worked pretty well – In the Quiet is less about negotiating the afterlife than it is detailing a family’s grief and death affects those still living.
What I liked about Cate (dead narrator) telling the story was the sense of personal specificity she brought to the story telling; she knows her kids, husband, friends, horses and property so well that many times I felt as pained and heartbroken as she did to watch everyone work out what it means to keep going after someone close to you has died. She notices the smallest details: her family haven’t changed their towels for too long, her husband hasn’t changed the sheets. Little things that seem inconsequential on their own but reveal so much as they accrue. The story is comprised of small sections – moments – usually only two or three paragraphs in length, and so readers, along with Cate, must piece everything together. Mostly, it follows her husband Bass, her twin sons Cameron and Rafferty and her youngest child, daughter Jessa. It’s an effective way of storytelling as we get to know the characters in their most intimate moments of grief and of life in general as they deal with that grief.
It was moving, it was beautiful, I loved all the characters (they were all really distinct and well developed), I loved the setting. Clear, evocative writing that totally nailed a bunch of experiences I could relate to – first crush, first kiss, first period, hangovers, insecurities, negotiating relationships and friendships and memories more generally.
The only thing I didn’t like about the dead-but-still-here narrator device were the few times that the weird ether/afterlife place was referred too… sentences like ‘I can see and I can hear. And when I remember back to other times and other places, I see and hear them as though I’m reliving them.’ This is actually in the novel’s opening paragraph and seems completely irrelevant to me – everything it conveys becomes obvious as the story progresses. The are a few other sentences of this ilk throughout the novel and I feel it would have been more compelling to let the story do its own work, since everything else about it was so well written.
Stylistically the writing was great but I did find that toward the end it didn’t seem quite as tight. Occasionally it felt slightly strained as if the author was trying too hard to sound profound (which she didn’t need to as the content was profound enough). For example, Jones frequently includes clauses of the following structure for emphasis:
‘the warmth of them’
‘the upheaval of it’
‘the sharpness of it’
‘the mass of it’
‘the deepness of it’
‘the horror of it’
I sounds nitpicky I know but these are only few of many similar examples, and so they kind of lost their power after a while and felt a bit repetitive.
That said…I still think this is a really well-written book, one of the best and most sophisticated debuts I’ve read in ages.