Book Review: Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash

Book Review: Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash

Lamorna Ash’s book, Dark, Salt, Clear*: Life in a Cornish Fishing Town (published by Bloomsbury), which is part-memoir/part-love song to the fishing community of Newlyn, would have been real crowd pleaser at the 2020 Penzance LitFest were it not for COVID-19. We very much hope that we’ll be able to lure Lamorna back to Cornwall to take part in the 2021 festival.

Cardiff-born of Cornish parents (her mother’s called ‘Zelah’), Lamorna spent many childhood holidays in Cornwall and, like many before her, always yearned to be there when away. This led to  the thesis for her master’s degree in social anthropology, which is now a very readable insight into the working lives of the fisherman of Newlyn –  and their families – set against a historical and contemporary backdrop.

‘Every fishing vessel in Newlyn holds within it a remarkable chain of lives – intricate family trees contained within their sea-marked hulls. When I return late and see the lights of the boats in the harbour, I hear their hulls rocking mysteriously, their sails murmuring and parts clinking. I imagine these ancestors of the town telling one another stories about the places they have been, the things they have seen, like narwhals narrating their sea journeys to one another through the clashing of their horns.’

While beautifully lyrical in places, it is Lamorna’s art as a story teller that draws you in as a reader. You feel you are on board the trawler with her as she experiences seasickness, fish gutting and the camaraderie of the crew. I quickly became enthralled by the life of the town and the tales of its inhabitants. Sometimes I felt slightly irritated by the level of historic and technical detail thrown at me (probably because this started out as a thesis), mostly because I wanted Lamorna to get on with her story. The proof, however, of any good book is that you really don’t want it to finish and I was sad to part company with Lamorna and the Newlyn community.

The line ‘Dark, Salt Clear’ is taken from the poem, At the Fishhouses, by Elizabeth Bishop.