‘I wondered, what it is that we hear in silence.’ Patrick Holland on The Source of the Sound.

When John Hunter approached me about an Australian edition of this collection, he asked what I meant by calling it The Source of the Sound when the final story was called, instead, ‘The Source of the Silence’.
Antonymy is a more intimate relationship than synonymy. Love could still be love without a red, red rose but our understanding of love would be greatly diminished if we had never encountered dislike, or hatred. The hero depends on the villain for his very existence.
The relationship between binary opposites becomes stranger the more we consider it. How often a great saint has been an equally great sinner: St Paul the missionary had been Saul the killer of Christians, the first century equivalent of a Gestapo officer. Waterless deserts and oceans occupy a common space in the human imagination, so Prester John could claim the deserts that surrounded his kingdom contained fish; so camels are called ships.
The universe is full of God’s silence … the question is whether we perceive in that silence an absence or a presence. Contemplatives of various traditions throughout the ages have contended that silence has a sound.
For the entire ten years that this collection spans, from oldest story to most recent, I was fascinated by the music of Arvo Pärt, especially by his silences – the silences, say, that surround each note of his apparently simple piano piece Fu?r Alina, and make those notes sound immense, as though they have been carved out of rock. I wondered, what it is that we hear in silence. Certainly it is not nothing. ‘Nothing’, to me, means meaninglessness. If anything is ‘nothing’ it is noise; a thing that saturates our lives in the 21st Century. Silence can be menacing, fertile, reverent, mysterious but it is not nothing … This collection’s final story, ‘The Source of the Silence’, is a response to the murder of a close friend of my sister, many years ago in the town where we grew up. As a story of tragic death, it is concerned with the greatest silence, that which resides on the far bank of the Styx … When writing it I was thinking of Pärt’s Tabula Rasa, which descends in steps toward a D minor chord it never reaches, that sounds in silence. In the same way I hope a reader will hear the last, unwritten, words of this book without my writing them.

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