Across the Silent Sea: A Novel by Gabrielle Barnby

Pushing Out the Boat is always pleased to discover other work published by our contributors. In this post our outgoing editor Lily Greenall reviews a work close to her heart.

This month, we were delighted to notice the release of a new novel, Across the Silent Sea, by regular Pushing Out the Boat contributor Gabrielle Barnby. The novel is set on Orkney and follows the journey of a local young woman, Esther, who has returned home to live with her parents in the aftermath of a traumatic accident. Following Esther’s attempts to piece her life back together, the novel deftly explores complex topics like addiction, family dynamics, and identity, and opens a dialogue about the way society treats those who suffer from mental illness and chronic pain. 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.

The scenic island setting lends an extra unique charm to the novel’s events but also adds a refreshing sense of reality and tangibility to the story. Stripped of any cliched sense of romanticised Scottishness, the Orkney setting has a brilliantly lived-in feel and gives a strong sense of real people in a small place – something that, as a reader and fellow islander, I really appreciated. The beautiful sunsets and majestic sea views are balanced out with slate-grey winter days where the rain never stops and transportation issues – all part and parcel of life in a remote, northern place.

Across the Silent Sea is partially based on transcripts from a real Orkney witch trial that took place in 1643 and in which a disabled woman, named Esther Russell, was accused of various acts of sorcery. Updated to a contemporary setting and only loosely informing events in the plot, this story forms a fascinating backdrop to Barnby’s novel.

Gabrielle Barnby lives in Orkney. She has published several works of fiction, including her novel, The Oystercatcher Girl, a poetry collection, A Way Out, And a Way In, and a short story collection, The House with Lilac Shutters. Several of her poems also feature in Issue 16 and Issue 17 of Pushing Out the Boat. More examples of her work can be found on her website. Across the Silent Sea was published by Sparsile Books and is also available to buy on Amazon Kindle and at Waterstones.


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