We live in noise. The world is a booming, rustling, buzzing place to begin with (though many of us have shut out nature’s clamor), and to that we have added every conceivable vibration of our own making and every possible means of assault, whether it’s the vast, thrumming climate-controlling systems of our sealed buildings or the tiny earbuds nestled against our cochleae. What chance does quiet have against all this? Plenty, it turns out. Sara Maitland has scaled the heights (or is it depths?) of what might be the only frontier humankind will never conquer and cannot, in spite of itself, destroy — silence. Infinite, fathomless, terrifying, uplifting, unknowable, gorgeous silence. It’s difficult to convey the thrill of “A Book of Silence,” an adventure story that doesn’t involve roaring crowds or screaming headlines, doesn’t depict a heroine climbing high mountains or sailing vast oceans, doesn’t chronicle racing pulses or sweaty palms, and yet is every bit as awe-inspiring, death-defying and mind-blowing as any trip up Everest. Rarely have I been so amazed at the splendor of a new landscape unfolding before my eyes, and felt so tense wondering what was going to happen as this intrepid writer pushed her way across the pages.
“A Book of Silence” is a brilliant exploration of something — or is it a nothing? — that right at the start is impossible to define precisely. Is silence the absence of words? Or is it the absence of sound altogether? Is there even such a thing as silence that we can experience? Isn’t there always the swoosh of blood through the body? Is silence dependent on external conditions? Or is it a quality of mind? What would you call the visual effect of something like a Rothko painting?