The Silence Diaries

Jennifer Kavanagh

Published by Roundfire Books October 25 2019

176pp, paperback, £8.99

Reviewed by Zoë Fairbairns

Click here to buy this book


Suzie is a political ventriloquist. She appears on TV with a hand-operated dummy named Bruce which has the face of a fox. Suzie and Bruce conduct three-cornered interviews with politicians. The idea is to use this wacky format to trap the politicians into indiscretion.

I’d watch them, if they were real. But, disappointingly, the fictional interviews are not so much shown in The Silence Diaries as reviewed by narrator Orbs, who is in love with Suzie and so perhaps somewhat biased. Orbs describes an interview with  London mayor Sadiq Khan as ‘magnificent’, and another, with ex-prime minister David Cameron, as  ‘a triumph’  But we don’t get to see on the page the actual words the fictionalized Cameron is supposed to have uttered when confronted with the fox’s challenge, ‘You really landed Theresa in it, didn’t you? Running away like that.’ Instead we are offered Orbs’ drooling comparisons with other, inferior, challenges: ‘None of the clever parliamentarians, not even a Paxman or a Humphries, could make such a mockery of a former prime minister…The overall impression was of acute frustration and, yes, powerlessness.’

Orbs’ accounts of his own job are similarly short on actual information. He is, he tells us, ‘something in the City’, which is an odd phrase for someone to use about themselves. It’s more commonly uttered in the third person, either in tones of awe or, alternatively, scorn and bafflement, suggesting the speaker doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to know, what workers in financial institutions actually do all day. Is Orbs into stocks and shares?  Futures and options? Derivatives?  Pension fund management? I hope he is nowhere near mine.

When not going to unspecified site meetings or having his annual review (of what?), Orbs wanders round a labyrinth, goes swimming, or moonlights as a street-theatre fool. Unlike his day job, these activities earn detailed and apparently-knowledgeable descriptions. It would be good to see, on the page, some of the ways in which his fool-ish lines and performances interact with his work-related conversations with his something-in-the-City pals. But no: when they go to the pub together ‘by mutual consent there was no shop talk’.

It would be equally revealing to have a taste of the ‘respected’ financial journalism which is Suzie’s day job, but it never appears on the page either. Instead we are told that she ‘takes the temperature of the nation in an unattributable way. And when people read her column in the paper or online, they know it’s real.’ If you say so, Orbs.

The love-story-element of The Silence Diaries resolves itself in the joys of parenthood, domesticity and professional advancement. The more abstract endorsements in the jacket blurb – ‘a sweet and gentle novel about how hard it can be to communicate honestly with others and be our real selves’ – are too vague to offer much insight into the point of it all.

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