Rebecca's Reviews > The Fish Ladder: A Journey Upstream

The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury
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bookshelves: reviewed-we-love-this-book, memoirs, travel-books, writers-and-writing, cancer-memoirs, adoption, nature

In her first book, Norbury travels to find the sources of rivers, interweaving the story of how she rediscovered her birth family and her health.

Each chapter of this evocative memoir is named after a meaningful place, often a body of water. Norbury, born in a Liverpool convent hospital, was given up for adoption. She was living in Barcelona with her husband and their nine-year-old daughter, Evie, when she suffered a miscarriage. Returning to spend time at their Welsh cottage, loss weighed on her: a friend died suddenly and her father succumbed to cancer; her grief veered close to madness.

Always fascinated by origin myths, Norbury decided to look for her own. The idea of following rivers from sea to source would be, more metaphorically, “a journey to the source of life itself,” a way to retrieve her life. She and Evie walk various streams but central to this book is the journey along Scotland’s Dunbeath Water, a two-day trek inspired by Neil Gunn’s The Well at the World’s End – a destination she reached despite cold, boggy ground and midges.

Like a waterway, The Fish Ladder meanders, slipping between past and present to make symbolic connections. When an encounter with breast cancer makes understanding her family history essential, the book prioritizes the hunt for her birth mother – though, alas, it’s no fairy tale ending.

Norbury writes beautifully about nature and life in a debut that fans of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk will love.

(This review originally appeared at We Love This Book.)
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Reading Progress

January 21, 2015 – Shelved
January 21, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
February 2, 2015 – Started Reading
February 2, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed-we-love-this-book
February 2, 2015 – Shelved as: memoirs
February 5, 2015 –
page 142
46.71%
February 7, 2015 – Shelved as: travel-books
February 7, 2015 – Shelved as: writers-and-writing
February 7, 2015 – Finished Reading
April 12, 2016 – Shelved as: cancer-memoirs
March 2, 2018 – Shelved as: adoption
March 2, 2018 – Shelved as: nature

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