Fish Ladder, Katharine Norbury, Bloomsbury
Katharine Norbury decides to make a trek alongside a river, from the sea to its source, partly inspired by an old book, partly to make an emotional connection – to ‘complete something’ – after a miscarriage. After some false starts she settles on a Scottish river where salmon run. But the book is more than this story, and like a river it meanders through various landscapes, physical and mental, as she describes the relationships with her nine year-old daughter and adoptive mother, her serious illness, her father’s death, and her search for her birth mother. All the while, this narrative is punctuated by her careful descriptions of wilderness and water. She has a fondness for the fanciful descriptive analogy, perhaps in emulation of her friend and fellow nature writer Robert Macfarlane’s renowned work (though she does have a tendency to repeat particular descriptive words she likes, which noticeably jars).
Christianity sits at the edges of the book. She compares groves to cathedrals, quotes Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, visits Fountains Abbey, relays stories of saints and sacred wells, and visits the convent where she was born. And she quotes C S Lewis’ description of a sort of holy longing – indeed, much of the book centres on an adopted child’s longing to find a sense of belonging.