The Silent Land, Graham Joyce

February 5, 2011

It’s Saturday morning in Tokyo, and I just got my box of April books from the States, four of which will comprise my Whodunit column for BookPage. It will be a difficult choice this month, as there are offerings from C.J. Box, James Thompson, Jonathan Kellerman, Joe R. Lansdale, Henning Mankell, Harlan Coben and more. Abby, my editor, sent along another book as well, with a pink Post-It on the front cover which read: “Something different, but it could be interesting…” I peeled off the Post-It to reveal the title: The Silent Land, by Graham Joyce.

Hmm, don’t know him. In my experience, though, Abby has been a pretty good judge of what I might like, so I flipped the book over to have a look at the synopsis on the back cover. Here’s a synopsis of the synopsis: Jake and Zoe, Brit tourists on holiday in Chamonix, are overtaken by a treacherous avalanche while skiing, and buried alive. Somehow they manage to dig their way out, but when they finally make their way back to the hotel, they find it completely empty. All communications are out; to every appearance they are the last people on earth. Fearing another avalanche, they make haste to leave the vacant village, but every effort they make, whether by car, on skis, or on foot, finds them eerily and inexplicably right back where they started. Shades of Stephen King! Okay, I was hooked.

A flashback: I read The Shining back when it first came out, while camping on a deserted beach near Mulege, Mexico. Twilight was closing in as I plowed through the final chapters; there was no way I could go to sleep without finishing it, so I lit a chapel’s worth of votive candles in order that I could keep reading. If you’ve read that book, you will likely remember that the denouement didn’t contribute much to a good night’s sleep, but still, it was better than not knowing. I felt much the same with The Silent Land. As with the best fantasy novels, it is difficult to determine where the reality ends and the supernatural begins, which of the things seen out of the corner of one’s eye belong to the real world and which are imagination, or worse. The protagonists quite rightly question their sanity as their sense of time becomes strangely fluid, and they begin to experience auditory and visual hallucinations, often at distinct variance with one another. It is at the very least a weird sort of reality, populated only with ominous black birds, and a friendly dog that bears a striking resemblance to Jake’s long-dead childhood pet. Add to that a cell phone that rings at inopportune times (with a garbled foreign voice at the other end), a kitchen counter full of raw meats and vegetables that never seem to spoil, and the repeated creaking and grumbling of the dangerously unstable snow…

Author Joyce has won basically every award in his field: the O. Henry Award (multiple times); the British Fantasy Award; and the World Fantasy Award. His 1998 book The Tooth Fairy, was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of that year. It is easy to see, from reading The Silent Land, just what all the fuss is about. His work is thought provoking and hypnotic, as much a treatise on what is important in life as it is a compelling page turner. It’s not the sort of book that fits in the Whodunit column, which is basically a mystery venue, but it definitely merits a place on the short list of all fantasy and horror novel aficionados. Thanks Abby!

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Funny Commercials From Around the Planet

February 5, 2011

Like most folks, when a commercial intrudes on my evening’s TV watching, I take the opportunity to make a quick dash to the kitchen or the bathroom to add or subtract ballast, or at the very least, I take careful aim with the mute button on the remote. It is a point of personal pride to avoid listening to even one word of the this unwanted interruption of my entertainment. It doesn’t have to be this way, to be sure. Every year at Super Bowl time, people stay glued to the television especially for the commercials, as they are among the major highlights of the show. Volkswagen, one of this year’s sponsors, leaked their Super Bowl entry early this year, a charmingly hilarious close encounter between a young Darth Vader and the new Passat, and it has amassed some 6 million hits thus far on YouTube.

This level of quality in advertising is nothing new for the rest of the world, both in print and on the tube; if it is not quite the norm, it is certainly not the exception. I actually find myself looking forward to commercials in Australia, France, the UK, Italy and Japan (to name but a few); here are a few favorites from over the years.

A series of whimsically nostalgic VW ads ran in Mexico the final year of VW Beetle (known in the US as the Bug) production. One showed an empty parking space, fairly small; several large cars tried to fit in, but couldn’t. Then a sign appears on the space saying (in Spanish, naturally): “It is incredible that a car so small can leave such a large void.” My favorite of the series showed the rear end of an early Beetle in the left side of the ad matched up to the front end of the final model in the right side of the ad, with the concise and elegant caption underneath: “Once upon a time…The End.”

The perils of being a one car family: The Turtles’ tune “Happy Together” overlays a weird and wonderful TV ad for the the Toyota RAV4, as a suburban couple duke it out for the day’s first opportunity to play with their new toy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFnhAZUYB_w

An Asian company called Sealect Tuna is responsible for some of the funniest commercials I have ever had the privilege of watching. Here are a couple of choice examples from the Mysterious East:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_k3jsy2o_I

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJCLKenykco&playnext=1&list=PL1974DD10C9AE58E7

France’s CulturePub showcases a strange (no, make that capital-B Bizarre) series of Japanese ads for among other things, blood pressure medicine, felt pens, and a chiropractic office. Check this out, but be ready to be a bit surprised at what is allowed on TV in an otherwise buttoned-up society:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCy-hhzlp9w

These are, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. A look through YouTube, using the search term “Funny Japanese Commercials”, or “Funny International Commercials” can easily keep you entertained for hours. Here’s one final one, the Top Ten Commercials of 2009; the one of the kids with elastic eyebrows is priceless; I can pretty much guarantee you’ll have no idea what product is being advertised until the last moment or two of the commercial:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8HOF_g5aTQ