Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Review: The Listening Silence

Title: The Listening Silence

Author: Helen Lillie

Date: 1970

Publisher: Hawthorn

ISBN: none

Length: 184 pages

Quote: “‘My father was. So were my aunts and uncles.’ ‘Well, you’re lucky…they can operate for it nowadays and it’s quite successful in about two cases out of three.’”

Margaret Drummond, undecided about whether to try a surgical operation to prevent the loss of her hearing, dashes back to Scotland (where she was born) after her older sister’s death—drowning, possibly caused by deafness. Margaret’s decision about the operation is the “redeeming social value” of what’s otherwise merely a romance of suspense.

What more needs to be said about a romance of suspense? The question is, how blatant are the sex and violence? The Listening Silence is not a complete "cozy," but it’s pleasantly low on violence, on or off stage. (The story seems to have been inspired by one of the classic ballads, which Margaret knows and sings to herself throughout the novel; in the ballad a jealous woman murders her sister, but in the novel Margaret’s concern is finding out whether her sister was murdered at all.)

The sex may be more offensive for some readers. Margaret is divorced from her New York husband. Before marriage she’d always fancied one of her second cousins, now widowed. When they meet again in Scotland they have sex, more than once, before they even consider marrying each other. The sex scenes are much shorter and less explicit than in the supermarket paperback romances that feature similar timing for “love,” sex, and marriage, but neither are readers allowed to doubt what kind of uncousinly squick is going on. (In Scotland, to which my family have traced only a couple of stray ancestors, even first cousins could legally marry each other. In Ireland, where the majority of my ancestors came from, even fourth cousins were supposed to behave like cousins. Well, Margaret is a Scot.)

If you really want to read The Listening Silence as a serious novel you can point out all the passages where Margaret thinks about deafness and operations and, in the end, makes a life-affirming choice…but I’m guessing that you don’t really care about that. You want to read about how she solves the mystery, marries her cousin, and lives happily ever after. I’ll leave you to it.

Some people are using the name "Helen Lillie" in cyberspace, but so far none of them seems to be the author of this book, so this is not a Fair Trade Book. To buy it here, send $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment to either address at the very bottom of the screen. You could add up to three Fair Trade books of this size to the package for the same $5 shipping charge.