The Weight of Silence
By Heather Gudenkauf
MIRA Books (2009)
‘A thrilling novel filled with lyrical prose and heart wrenching plot twists.’
RATING – 4.5/5 stars
Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, a dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler. Calli’s mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband. Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter’s voice. Petra Gregory is Calli’s best friend, her soul mate and her voice. But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered. Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor. Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children. And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
The Weight of Silence was sitting on the dusty shelf of my nearest charity shop, unloved and used I decided to give it a chance. Judging by the title, the blurb and the image on the front of the book I knew I was in for some heavy content and that’s exactly what I got. The base of the story is about two little girls that are missing, throughout the book you also feel lost, scared and slightly helpless. I think it is the author’s job to create characters that are not just likeable but well rounded. Readers are investing their time into these characters, they need to feel for these characters and I believe that the author was successful in achieving this. I really loved the narrative of this novel, I felt that the best way to tell this story was through each character and it worked perfectly. I was a little skeptical at first when I realized that the novel was built up of small, short character diaries but I don’t usually like that type of narrative but it definitely worked on this occasion. The story is told in alternating viewpoints from Antonia, Martin, Calli, Petra, Deputy Sheriff Louis, and Ben, Calli’s brother. The story has a mysterious aura from start to finish and towards the end of the novel I could feel my heart beating fast, I was right there with the characters (I was that engrossed in the narrative.) The themes of the novel are fear, confusion, guilt and forgiveness. I really liked the fact that the woods is the core of the story, even when the girls are found the author returns to the woods at the end in Calli’s epilogue – which I thought was a nice touch.
Cleverly, the author caught me off guard towards the end of the book. Usually with mystery-based stories that have a whodunit scenario, the reader usually guesses about three quarters of the way through. As a reader, I thought I had it all figured out until I was side-wiped by the real suspect, who was barely a secondary character throughout the novel – very clever indeed! Gudenkauf’s writing style is clear, crisp and concise. The prose is almost lyrical, with plenty of juicy descriptions to enlighten the experience for the reader. Something I did notice was that some of the character views were in third person and some were in first person, although this must have been difficult for the author whilst writing, trying to keep a continuity throughout the novel, it actually worked overall. If there was one minor set back it was the pace during the novel. Sometimes I felt that the story was dragging, then it would speed up and then it would drag again. Of course I was a happier reader when I was reading the fast paced segments but I also know as a writer myself how important the slow bits are for the story to progress.
Heather Gudenkauf does an amazing job of ratcheting up the suspense in the first chapter and keeping you on the edge of your seat all the way through to the end. I would have read this book in one sitting if I’d had enough time, but unfortunately my day job got in the way of my reading. It’s really a race against time as the families and sheriff try to find the girls. I really loved the sweet relationship between Calli and Petra, it is very sweet and they definitely have a special connection. Petra met Calli after she’d already gone mute, and still she befriended her. This shows that Gudenkauf doesn’t just scratch the surface with her characters, she creates profound characters that have multiple layers to their personalities. A nice touch to the story is the moral that Petra saved Calli from obscurity by being her voice and in return Calli found Petra just in time.
One of my favourite passages in the novel was in the Epilogue at the end, narrated in first person by the main character Calli, it’s six year later and she reflects back. She talks about ‘finding’ her voice again. I think the imagery is especially strong on this passage:
I have never thought of it as ‘finding’ my voice because it wasn’t really lost. It was more like a bottle with a cork pushed deeply into the opening. I picture it that way often, my voice like some sweet-smelling perfume, sitting in some expensive-looking bottle with a beautifully curved handle, tall and slender, made of glass as blue as the bodies of the dragonflies I see down in Willow Creek Woods. My voice was just waiting for the right moment to be let go from that bottle. No, it was never lost; I just needed permission to use it again. It took me such a long time to figure out that I was the only one who could grant that permission, no one else. I wish my mother would understand this. She still blames herself for everything, and isn’t that a heavy weight to carry around?
The Weight Of Silence has been my favourite book this year, so far. An enthralling page-turner with characters that you can’t help but sympathise with. Beautiful lyrical prose and a satisfying ending – what more could a reader want!