Book Review: Across the Silent Sea

front cover of the book shows a woman sitting looking out to sea overlaid on a large image of a profile image of a woman's head

A life changing car accident has a devastating impact upon Esther.

Across the Silent Sea: Orkney- at the Edge of Darkness and Light, is a new novel by Gabrielle Barnby. The novel delves into Esther’s thought processes as she deals with her addiction and inability to articulate those thoughts through speech.

Before the accident Esther had been ambitious and on the verge of a new tourism venture formed with her partner, Simon, whom she is also in a relationship with. The serious injuries she receives on that fateful rainy night in Orkney change everything, not just for her, but for her family too.

At the book launch in the Orkney Library, Gabrielle Barnby spoke of the different voices in the novel – and indeed there are many. They speak in a mixture of tongues and of course, silently in Esther’s case. Orcadian dialect is managed successfully even conveying the nuances in the language between different islands.

Gabrielle reading from her book

Language is a very important aspect of this book which is written with a poet’s love for it.

Esther’s pain is very real. Physical pain from her injuries and the stomach cramping screeching pain of feeding her addiction to relieve it. The depiction of Esther is a nuanced layering of her thoughts and some reader’s may not like her because she’s filled with not just physical pain but with resentment and spite. Her difficult relationship with her mother, a practical no-nonsense woman, is seen through Esther’s viewpoint, but this woman is struggling too.


Granny is in a Care Home. Esther’s brother and his family are removing all traces of her beloved granny’s shop as they renovate the building. New people have come to live in Orkney from other countries: the doctor, the pharmacist, the drop out musician Marcus Macrae.


The Orkney landscape, changing fleetingly through the vagaries of the weather and the seasons, remains.

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.

banner image of Across the Silent sea with the novel and the heading Orkney The Edge of Darkness and Lights

Fiona Grahame

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