All Is Silence by Manuel Rivas

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All Is Silence by Manuel Rivas

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Steve Shayler
Reviewed by Steve Shayler
Summary: The story of friends growing up in a small Spanish community where smuggling is just a way of life. Unusually written and at times brilliant this is an interesting read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846555688

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The small community of Noitía is a place where everyone knows each other and each other’s business, which considering most of the adults are involved in the one business, smuggling, is potentially dangerous knowledge. We follow a small group of three young friends growing up in the area as they play and learn and even experience a little of the black market dealings. They stumble across a stash of smuggled whisky and are caught by the charismatic king pin responsible for the trafficking, who teaches them that silence is the most important lesson to learn when growing up in Noitía.

The book is in two sections, the first showing us the characters' childhoods and the second what they made of their lives as they grew up. We follow a few different strands of storyline and a few different people; initially we predominantly follow the children and their games and explorations of their world. The children are written well and feel real; they are charming and inquisitive with a fantastic degree of cheekiness, their actions fit perfectly as do their emotional reactions to what happens around them in the story. These are the kind of children who will get themselves into trouble and act defiantly but are nonetheless loveable. We also follow Mariscal who is the underworld boss in the area responsible for the smuggling and a lot of jobs for the locals. Mariscal is an incredibly charismatic, eloquent and theatrical character who early in the story seems quite benevolent despite his profession. He's a respected man within the community as a whole and does not come across as a tyrant like most in his position.

The second section of the storyline shows how the characters have grown up and have gone their separate ways. This part deals with the fact that living in a community like Noitía can too easily lead to a life on the wrong side of the law, and whereas the smuggling in the area had once seemed almost acceptable, it now involved drugs and had a much more sinister undercurrent. One of the childhood friends escapes the area at a younger age and grows up to be very different from his friends who stayed. Their relationships are more than a little tense and when the friend who escaped returns it is to turn Noitían lifestyle upside down.

All Is Silence is an interesting story written in a very unusual style. The narrative style changes frequently and can be quite hard to follow. Early in the book I found the story awkward and the changes in perspective and writing style off-putting. The narrative felt disjointed at times and some of the dialogue even felt off. Part of this might be down to something being lost in the translation from Galician to English but I also think it's the result of the author attempting to be innovative. At one brief point the writing becomes almost like stage directions and this style. This all made for uncomfortable reading at times which considering the fantastic characterisation was a real shame.

Manuel Rivas’ unusual writing style did improve throughout the book though and at times it really paid off and the story felt as though it had real intrigue and energy because of it. Large sections of the story, especially later on, were an absolute joy to read largely because of the way they were written and the frequent changes in perspective. The whole story seemed to pick up speed and the different strands of story fell into place brilliantly making the book exciting and gripping. At some indefinable moment everything just seemed to fall into place.

Although not perfect All Is Silence grows into a really exhilarating read and one that I am happy to have experienced. The author is clearly talented and his characterisation was spot on from the start and although his unusual narrative style felt maybe a little over ambitious at first it did shape up really satisfyingly. The story and its plotting started in a rather sputtering manner but once in gear the pacing was perfect. I would happily recommend this book to anyone but would advise patience, stick with it as the end product is worth it.

Books Burn Badly is a Spanish Civil War epic that displays more of Rivas’ style.

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Buy All Is Silence by Manuel Rivas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy All Is Silence by Manuel Rivas at


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