The Fish Ladder: A journey upstream
Church Times Bookshop £15.30
THE subtitle of this unusual and beautifully written
autobiography, A journey upstream, is apt, though
Norbury's own life illustrates it in reverse. After she was given
up for adoption by a woman who never saw or wanted to see her baby,
Norbury's life opened out when she was adopted by a loving family.
She is now happily married and has a daughter.
All seems well, but the miscarriage of her second child helps
bring about her decision to walk from a river's mouth to the spring
where it rises. It is as if she is pursuing the route of her own
life back into her unknown start, searching for some sort of
closure. But her journeys up several rivers and fish ladders (a
series of man-made linked pools that help salmon reach their
spawning grounds upriver) are often uncomfortable and inconclusive,
a possible marker that, in turn, will lead to an effort to meet the
source of her own life, her mother.
Early in her book, Norbury quotes John Donne's lines:
On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must, and about must go.
When I finished The Fish Ladder, I realised how crucial
these lines are, because the book is full of searches and journeys,
and of going round in circles, the effort seeming greater than any
possible result. But there is also the part played by serendipity,
by making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident; and when
Norbury learns that by chance she is near her true mother, and even
finds her house (no reply to knocks on the door), she writes to
her. But the mother who refused to see her at birth will not change
her mind. Norbury's journey upstream achieves much, but not
Like Helen Macdonald, the author of H is for Hawk,
Norbury uses the natural world to try to heal herself, but, in the
final analysis, the means become as important as the end.
Peggy Woodford is a novelist.