It is said that some people can see the scars of people who step onto the island of Seannay, a tiny remote Scottish Island in the Orkney archipelago. The scars illuminated like phosphorescence of the sea. Not everybody, only people with “the sight”. Luda sees the scars clearly.
Luda Managan, with her teenage children Min and Darcy, has moved to the tiny island to photograph and document the effects of climate change and the damage it is wreaking on the islands.
They live in the only habitable house on the island, the “ghost” house. Witch marks abound around the house. The marks are found inside and out, on the ceiling, surrounding doorways and windows. Are they meant to ward off evil or do they serve another nefarious purpose?
Years ago in the seventeenth century, the history books tell of a number of women who were executed on the island as witches, and an eerie atmosphere covers the island. Do the marks have something to do with the witches and their executions?
The damage caused by climate change is witnessed by the family as soon as they arrive at the island. Erosion causes a landslide from a cliff face which tragically kills a young child. Luda photographs the accident and the grief-stricken mother. It is her job to take these photos, but when Luda publishes them, the locals are shocked with her lack of decency and concern for the mother. The backlash virtually ostracizes Luda from the first day.
This is not the first time Luda has published a questionable photo. Back in Australia she photographed her own son lying in the bed of a dried-up dam. The photo was to show the devastating effects of a drought, but it also proved devastating for her son whose face and misery became public property. The photograph almost severing Luda and Darcy’s relationship.
Shades of the supernatural pervade the book in the form of a boy, Theo, who was found washed up on the shores many years ago. Rumors swirl around his origin. Some locals believe him to be a Selkie, a mythological creature that looks like a seal, but sheds its skin on land. The webbing that grows between Theo’s fingers only add to the town’s gossip and hearsay. Then there is Min, who can dive underwater to impossible depths and hold her breath longer than any human should be able to. She seems at home in the water.
Theo is the highlight of the book for me. He is a boy without an origin. Not knowing where he came from, he feels he does not belong with the islanders. When Darcy shows him childhood photos, Theo becomes obsessed, his feelings for Darcy powerful and overwhelming. He despises the webbing between his fingers, slicing away at them with scissors. He numbs his pain with alcohol. He does not attend school and can neither read nor write. He is cloaked in ambiguity and the supernatural.
In fact, the three teenagers of the novel are the focal points for the narrative. Most of the story is told from their perspective.
So many themes are explored in this novel, climate change, isolation, self-harm and bullying. Ethics and morality. The intense power of first love. Religion and witchcraft. And grief, so much grief. But it all comes together beautifully. I have heard great things about “In the Quiet”. After reading this, it is on my list.
Eliza Henry Jones was born in Melbourne in 1990. She was a young writer-in-residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers' Centre in 2012 and was a recipient of a Varuna residential fellowship for 2015.
She is the author of In the Quiet (2015), Ache (2017) and the young adult novels P is for Pearl (2018) and How to Grow a Family Tree (2020). Her novels have been listed for awards including the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, QLD Literary Awards, NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Indie Awards, ABIA Awards and CBCA Awards. Eliza has received residencies at Varuna, the National Writers’ House (NSW) the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre (WA), and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Ireland (courtesy of Varuna). Most recently, she received a residency through the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville (QLD). Her short fiction, nonfiction and features have been widely published across magazines, newspapers and journals.
Eliza has qualifications in psychology; alcohol and other drugs; and grief, loss and trauma counselling.
MY RATING -