A Whisper of Solace - Milena McKay
There’s a word. Metacognition. It basically means to think about your thinking. In A Whisper of Solace, Milena McKay brings to us Neve Blackthorne, an ice queen who rules Hollywood in her role as CEO of Gannon McMillan Pictures and who is infatuated with and carrying on with her Junior Communication Executive, Audrey Avens. The metacognition is not in the relationship. It is in the fact that Neve behaves exactly like an ice queen, yet dismisses the idea until her therapist presents the notion to her, then through a number of sessions, they deconstruct what it is that makes an ice queen. Metacognition. It’s very clever. To write a story about an ice queen, yet dismiss the very idea until the two intersect. Clever.
The use of therapy sessions makes for an interesting tool with which we discover the frost that coats Neve’s exterior. Two stories are told and as they touch and twine and twist and tear apart, the analysis of an ice queen demonstrates that they are more than simply icicles and glaciers; they are the gasp when the first crack in a sheet of ice is loud enough for all around to hear.
McKay gives us A Whisper of Solace. A whisper. A breath. But when the cracks in ice reverberate, a whisper is much too quiet to hear. And we find that Neve Blackthorne doesn’t like noise; both the physical and the metaphorical. But her life is noisy. Noisy with business machinations. Noisy with the pretence of Tinseltown. Noisy with her infatuation with Audrey Avens. Noisy with the voices from her past. All of it much too noisy for a whisper to thrive. And Neve is listening for that whisper with everything she has. There’s that metacognitive ice queen.
Metaphors abound in this story, which is hardly surprising as it’s a Milena McKay novel. However, the metaphors are clever and pared down and sensible and assist in guiding a story that is dense and delicious. Metaphors are necessary. Greek mythology, mirror, reflections, Wizard of Oz (Wicked Witch of the West), one-liners from films, and chess.
Neve’s therapist utilises chess pieces to represent the way Neve defends and attacks aspects of her life. McKay takes us on a masterful journey across each of the squares that dig into Neve’s heart, through each of the moves that excoriate her soul, so that we are gasping for air, and wondering how we got to that particular location. Then we look behind and see the breadcrumbs and strings from Neve’s therapist which guide us to where we sit, trembling, sequestered in Neve’s rook, then sending forth her pawn, and taking up arms ahead of her knight, to surrender her bishop. All the while, playing the game with Gannon McMillan Pictures, actors, actresses, boards, Audrey, relationships, international politics, protect, deflect, and a refusal to acknowledge that her therapist is actually treating her in each session.
I won’t elaborate on what each piece represents as to do so would create a spoiler that would result in an abrupt end-game. Suffice to say, one of the many opening moves in chess is the Queen’s Gambit. This move usually brings about a strategic game rather than an all-out tactical battle, and it is without a doubt McKay is using this strategy to guide us through the threads of this story. Until it can’t. Until all strategies have lost their structure. Until the chess pieces are scattered, cleared from the board by a tumultuous acceleration of the plot and McKay brilliantly pushes the whirlwind so that no game can keep up. Because the ice queen and all that analysis? It’s no longer a game. Neve and Audrey build themselves a palpable cyclone of chaos which is both logical, yet heart-stopping, and breathtaking in the audacity of both. This story is a tribute to the queen, both the ice and the metaphorical. It is a story inside a story until the two circles become one.
There really isn’t such a thing as an unstoppable force or an immovable object but Audrey and Neve and the cast of characters, both past and present, were created to represent the explosion that would occur if such a paradox were true. This story is about power. Power that is given and held and taken and lost. It is about love and the power it carries. It is about the power of the queen. She can move in all directions and any number of squares. Neve says that she works “her best when backed into a corner with seemingly no way out. It’s when she saw clearest of all.” In A Whisper of Solace, we see Neve, with her power, finally seeing the clearest of all and it is magnificent.
In this story, the pieces are swept from the board but the ice queen, battered and nearly broken, remains standing, and all that is important is within reach. The silence of battle is loud. A whisper can be heard in all that loud.