Across The Silent Sea – reviews and responses

Brilliantly written

An intense and rewarding read

Across the Silent Sea


Gabrielle Barnby

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.

Across The Silent Sea, Gabrielle Barnby, Book cover, Orkney, Sparsile Books
Sparsile Books, publisher, Gabrielle Barnby


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.

Gabrielle Barnby, Christmas event, Across the Silent Sea, Orkney, Workshop, on-line, Eventbrite

This novel was a joy to read and handled complex topics sensitively and beautifully

The Orkney News

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.


Written with so much attention to the complex relationships between family, in every word said combined with physical description intertwined with every conversation that you feel every word.


A woman silently screams. Will she be heard and listened to on the island?

Heartfelt writing with poetic detail yet grounded in the messy realities of life.


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.

This was a book chosen by our very new book club here in Orkney as we wanted to read a local writer. It absolutely did not disappoint.
The writing was poetic while retaining a visceral sense of what was being conveyed to the reader. The characters were complex but and easy to know and understand due to the way they were written. There is a definite sense of place with this book and you are left in no doubt what is around you in the air and in front of your eyes. The story itself is all at once painful, upsetting, frustrating and amusing, I didn’t get the idea it was meant to be an emotionally easy book to read, but I found it hugely engaging and I knew who I liked and who I didn’t. I knew how I felt about most of the situations in the story and the complexities of life and family, especially after trauma. All in all this was a beautiful book to read and I enjoyed every minute of it. Would not hesitate to recommend it.

Pushing Out the Boat

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.

Ellen Forkin

Gabrielle Barnby, Scotlands Indie Book Festival, Helmsdale
Gabrielle Barnby, Scotlands Indie Book Festival, Helmsdale
Gabrielle Barnby, Across the Silent Sea, Launch celebration, Kirkwall, Orkney, signing books
Gabrielle Barnby, Across the Silent Sea, new novel set in Orkney, book launch celebration
Gabrielle Barnby