THE FISH LADDER by Katharine Norbury
Kirkus Star


A Journey Upstream
Email this review


British writer Norbury’s debut memoir takes readers on vigorous walks through lochs, rivers, and soggy marshes in Scotland, England, and Wales.

Adopted by loving parents and unable to identify, not for lack of trying, her birth parents, the author found that the inability to construct her family’s story left her “dizzyingly adrift,” living with her writer husband and their daughter Evie in both Spain and England. A miscarriage, as well as the loss of her father years before, deepened her loneliness. Inspired by Neil M. Gunn’s novel The Well at the World’s End, Norbury was intuitively drawn to the idea of walking from the mouth of a river to its source. For starters, she and Evie walked the banks of Afon Geirch, which runs into Cable Bay in Wales, where the family has a summer cottage. Though thwarted by fences and mud, she was not deterred. Following her expeditions could send readers to an old-fashioned atlas that includes the many bodies of water she encountered, including Dunbeath Water, near Spey, Scotland, where the “well at the world’s end” supposedly exists. Whether the well is real or fictional hardly matters. It’s the journey that counts. Norbury, whose background includes film editing for the BBC, stirs the imagination with descriptive passages—“Salt-white boulders lined a powdery shore of crystal sand, unmarked and clean, its whiteness stained to the colour of cork by the peat”—and her many digressions delight. For example, there is the tale of Boand, the goddess who went to seek a forbidden well in the land beyond her own, and that of her aunt’s flirtation (or was it an affair?) with a fisherman. All the stories circle back to themes of loneliness, yearning, and self-discovery. As the fish ladder enables salmon to swim upstream, Norbury’s treks helped her come to terms with the circumstances of her birth.

A beautifully written book about a journey through wild places in the landscape and the heart.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62040-995-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015


NonfictionIN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY by Bill Bryson
by Bill Bryson