The Oystercatcher Girl
The Oystercatcher Girl
The longer I live in Orkney the more I have come to love the wild landscape and the lilting dialect, which stings the ear like the wind. This book was written over the last three years, it is set in Orkney, but I wanted to write about relationships in a way that spoke to everyone no matter where they live.
Christina’s story is about life and death, and the messy complications that increase rather than diminish as time goes by. The desire for perfection in herself and other people is in danger of leaving Christine isolated from everyone she loves. Ultimately, her journey to self-knowledge will be irrevocably linked with loss.
The Oystercatcher Girl is released by ThunderPoint and available to buy in paperback from The Orcadian bookshop and Stromness Books and Prints. Copies are also for sale at the Orkney Fossil and Heritage Centre, The Birsay Bay Tearoom, Deerness Stores and the Yellowbird Gallery, home of artist John Thompson whose beautiful image is on the front cover. The book is also for sale from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Waterstones and Blackwell’s.
‘Set amidst the spectacular scenery of the Orkney Islands, Gabrielle Barnby’s skilfully plotted first novel is a beautifully understated story of deception and forgiveness, love and redemption.’
The Oystercatcher Girl audio snippets read by Gabrielle Barnby
Sarah Norquoy – also known as Norq from Ork
Set in Orkney the book is instantly familiar to me as I recognize the unique Orcadian language and words as well as places and names of recognition. Along with this Gaby chose to use locations and sites that are not recognizable to a real place. (Coincidentally this was something we discussed yesterday at Robert Alan Jamieson’s ‘Aspects of fiction’ workshop I attended yesterday. Ultimately the decision was the author can do whatever like, it’s their story.)
The book is ultimately about the fluctuating relationships between friends and family as it sways back and forth between the past and present day covering mental health, complex parent relationships, love, betrayal, and regret. There are wonderful descriptions of Orkney landscape and the challenges and benefits that come with living in a small place. I enjoyed the book group questions at the back too. Always good for developing discussion. A great one for your Christmas list.
Sara Bailey, author of Dark Water
From the opening and the ‘fleshy light of St. Magnus’ we are drawn in first and foremost by the lyrical, lilting language of this beautifully crafted novel. Barnby wraps us up in her descriptions of places drawn so clearly and with a wonderful visual sympathy.
The story of Christine’s return and the unravelling the stories she and others have told themselves over the years is set against the stunning backdrop of the landscape of Orkney. It intertwines with events and the emotions of the characters. ‘By the time Dad picked us up we were weary. The green-grey horizon rose and fell like the sea as the car swung towards the barriers.’
Secondary characters who stood out for me were Alfred, Tessa’s autocratic father – a terrifying figure in their childhood, who is diminished by age into a pathetic whining would-be monster in old age. Also, Christine’s troubled sister, Lindsay – the wildchild with mental health issues trying to find her way. Both these characters fight their respective demons with an energy that lifts them from the page so much so sometimes that they threatened to upstage the other characters. It is, ultimately, Lindsay, she who is ‘the master of the trailed fingertip’, who takes us through to the truth of the book and who guides the story towards the end. Her unreliability at the start masking her insight into what has been going on all along.
I couldn’t write about this book without mentioning the use of dialect. Barnby manages to capture the soft, sing-song tones of the Orcadian voice without missing a beat. I can hear those voices as clearly as if they were in the same room and I cannot stress enough how difficult this is to achieve – I am full of admiration for this alone.
The Oystercatcher Girl is an excellent debut novel and a wonderfully evocative and deftly woven Orcadian story.
Gabrielle Barnby writes in detail of everyday routine, of the beauty of the countryside or sordid appearance of a street and of the confusion Christine feels. Tessa appears to be an enigma; a butterfly or an oystercatcher, scampering with the tide. She gave up music on a whim, she shows little sign of grief for her husband and yet she is a caring mother. We see Robbie through the eyes of others and through a bundle of letters, which hint at the secrets we do not understand.
As the story progresses, Christine finds herself endangered by past deeds. Can she find contentment and a sense of belonging or will happiness be elusive? This literary, mindful novel has a spiritual quality and yet is firmly grounded in everyday predicaments of love, loss and secrets.
The Oystercatcher Girl is an evocative, beautifully written book that lives up to its wonderfully drawn cover. It starts with a funeral and, throughout the book we follow the lives of Tessa, Christine and her unstable sister, Lindsay. Told from Christine’s point of view, the reader discovers many secrets in a place where secrets are hard to keep. The Orkney landscape is as much a character as the people we come to care about. Gabrielle has captured the essence of being a part of a close community yet remaining on its boundaries. The book is a mystery, a romance and a literary work – and running through its pages, the trilling of Oystercatchers. More Amazon Reviews