Across The Silent Sea – reviews and responses
An intense and rewarding read
Across the Silent Sea
Esther’s dreams of a glamorous life in London are shattered when she has a serious accident which leaves her with life-changing injuries. Living in her childhood home in Orkney, she retreats into a silent world until Marcus, a musician down on his luck, comes to stay on the island and reaches out to her through his music.
Described in rich, subtle detail—town, land and sea—in sharply observed and lyrical excitement, Esther’s inner voice—tough, desperate, cutting, hilariously sarcastic, witheringly dry, suddenly tender—explores what it means to have one’s dreams shattered and the impact that facial scarring has on identity.
This book provides sensitive insight into the mindset and angst of Esther, an aphasic desperate painkiller-addicted woman whose severe injuries have compelled her to seek refuge from a sophisticated London life back in her rural family home. Accompanied by lyrical descriptions of her homeland, Orkney, it shows the complexities, resentment and dissension typical in many extended families, flashes up dark secrets from WWII and skilfully references contemporary narratives still mirroring the 17th century, yet it is a page-turning tale with richly drawn characters and innovative structure. We are shown how society, doctors and families can attribute blame, even demonise and punish individuals (especially women) who make us uncomfortable or don’t confirm to our norms. Esther’s mother cannot conceive she still suffers pain one year after her serious RTA and the local non-Scottish doctor and pharmacist have differing views on how to help. The ending surprises and the witchcraft epilogue is thought provoking. Ms Barnby is an author who uses all her training in medical sciences and psychology to weave an ‘anthropological’ tapestry I will read again. Should be a text book for psychiatrists.
This novel was a joy to read and handled complex topics sensitively and beautifully
The novel explores, on multiple levels, themes of pain, addiction, relationships, loss, language and change. It is beautifully written with a poet’s skill in expressing scenes familiar to many readers, especially islanders. These are Esther’s warm memories of a time in childhood when everything seemed stable and uncomplicated. A time of innocence and wellbeing before pain overtook her life. Published by Sparsile Books and priced at £10.99, ‘Across the Silent Sea’ is a novel where more is left unsaid than is spoken by the characters – either verbally or silently. It remains for the reader to fill those gaps with our own interpretations of the complex nature of human behaviour and relationships.
I liked the cover so bought this at a book fair. It immediately transported me to Orkney and a young life interrupted from its chosen course. You felt it could happen to any of us and it often does. The interactions between family members and how this can affect relatives, friends, and close communities is beautifully handled. Given the subject, it still left you with a sense of hope and new beginnings. An enjoyable read.
Esther’s witty internal monologue is the razor-sharp driving force of the novel and effortlessly draws the reader into her budding friendship with rebellious newcomer, Claudette, and struggling local musician, Marcus. Barnby paints a compelling and compassionate portrait of a large, close-knit family, who struggle in different ways to adapt to the changes in Esther.
A thoughtful book dealing with big issues in a small community. For me, Across the Silent Sea is all about characters: Esther is a complicated, brilliant protagonist though Granny Ida came very close to stealing the show. I loved the bond between grandmother and granddaughter and how their problems were dealt with so differently by the people they knew. Esther’s isolation is a tragedy, while Ida is half forgotten in a care home. Esther is silent and this troubles everyone, Ida speaks but few take the time to listen. There is also a strong sense of place in the book, a snapshot of Orkney and island life. A wonderful novel – clever and thought-provoking.