Silence fascinates me. Over the years I have had an off and on relationship with silence, which has often led me fleeing the opportunities silence brings and filling my time and space with noise. Now I often find myself craving silence and solitude. This new book by Sara Maitland has been a real find.
For about the last 10 years Sara Maitland has been trying to understand more about silence: what it might mean in 21st century; what effects it has on people; how it has been used and understood in the past; why we are so frightened of it; and why she has come to love it so much.
Her new book is an account of that adventure, a sort of mixture of personal journey and cultural history, both deeply personal and intellectually exciting. In the course of researching and writing the book Maitland spent silent time in silent places – on Skye in the Hebrides; in the Sinai Desert; in forests and mountains; in a flotation tank; in monasteries and libraries. She was trying to match her personal experiences to those of other people – from fairy stories to single-handed sailors, from hermits and romantic poets to prisoners and castaways, from reading and writing to mountaineering and polar exploration, from mythology to psychoanalysis.
“A serious, important and deeply engaging book, describing with equal honesty the risks and the resources of silence. In describing her own exploration of these, Sara Maitland prompts some very uncomfortable questions about the fear, the shallowness and the lack of attentive listening that so effectively keep us prisoners” Archbishop Rowan Williams
“This book is partly a cultural history of silence which considers fairy-tales and flotation tanks, solitary confinement and religious orders, but mainly it’s a beautiful and serene memoir about trying to find inner (and outer) peace in a cacophonous world. I adored it” Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller.
“This is a thought-provoking book, sincere and never dull. We can only envy her at the end as she sits in a Scottish fastness enjoying…silence” – Rodney Trourbridge, The Bookseller
“Full of strange beauty, humour and lightly-worn learning, this
inspiring meditation is the perfect balm for the noise-addled modern
mind.” Charles Ferneyhough
“Sara Maitland's search for silence and solitude turns into an intriguing spiritual quest which takes the reader deep into her inner thoughts and fears. 'A Book for Silence' records a brave and adventurous psychological journey that will speak to all who have doubts about our increasingly over-materialistic society.” Stuart Sim, author of Manifesto for Silence
“I am grateful to Sara Maitland for this joyful book, filled with humour. It is a beautifully written, the fruit of prolonged experience of different sorts of silence, as well as wide reading and real scholarship. It uncovered within me a half-forgotten hunger for silence which surely most of feel in this noisy world.” Timothy Radcliffe, OP
“Maitland’s exploration of silence is as intimate as her own back doorstep and, in its intellectual range, as sweeping as the open moor before her.” Gillian Allnutt
“A timely and alluring exploration of the pleasures and powers of silence; Maitland writes with the serenity of one who has just returned from a place where I would very much like to go.” Tim Parks
“Inspiring, absorbing and intellectually stimulating: I haven’t enjoyed a new book so much for ages… Sara’s own quest for silence forms a magical thread throughout, giving the book the impetus of a spiritual autobiography, richly traditional in its origins and certain aspects of its shape, contemporary in its approach to specifically modern problems…As I write this, fairly late at night, in a reasonably tranquil suburb, I can hear the noise of a passenger plane, a war plane, road traffic, a neighbour’s stereo and a car radio, plus the clatter of washing up and voices from the kitchen: for many, one of the more poignant aspects of this book may be a realization of their own loss of silence, and of the reasons – and the importance – of Sara’s quest.” Jenny Newman
For Sara Maitland, a practising Roman Catholic, silence has a profound religious dimension, which is also examined and discussed. This journey into silence has held surprises and setbacks, but mainly a deepening sense of happiness. In the end Maitland built a little house on an isolated moor in Galloway, designed for solitary and silent living.