The Rest Is Silence is a curious hybrid of a novel, a dual-track eco-fantasy with its narrative feet planted in two very different worlds. The main story deals with a young man who has gone to build a cabin in the woods of Nova Scotia. He bonds with a pair of locals: a wise old man and a sexy native earth-mother figure whom he takes to bed.
Alternating with this story is a parallel account of slightly earlier events involving a researcher in New York City who is developing a strain of plastic-eating bacteria. Her research is initially directed toward solving environmental problems, but turns into a kind of eco-terrorism that, when the bacteria is released, plunges the world into chaos. Living off the grid turns out, not coincidentally, to have been a good move for the narrator.
Fotheringham’s primary plot traverses familiar ground for Canadian fiction: there are copious descriptions of the seasons and of flora and fauna; frequent flashbacks take us through a dysfunctional family history; and much attention is paid to domestic duties such as the planting of small-scale crops and the gathering of fuel for the wood stove. Even the twist at the end recalls a recent East Coast bestseller.
The secondary narrative, however, adds an original dimension to what would otherwise have been a conventional tale. These two threads are nicely woven together, and though alert readers will guess where things are going, some suspense is maintained alongside interesting ruminations about the relationship between nature and civilization, chaos and stability.
As a speculative novel of ideas grounded in evocations of earth and the body, The Rest Is Silence works remarkably well most of the time. The necessities of the plot make the main character difficult to relate to, and the supporting cast is allowed to drift into stereotypes, but Fotheringham seems finally to be less interested in people than in their existenitial relationship to the world, time, and the environment.
Like most such fables it goes on a bit too long, but it makes a simple and lasting impression.