Dark, Salt, Clear , melds history, literature and the highly personal into something far more complex and compelling than the 'evocative journey replete with poetry' of the publisher’s blurb. W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn becomes Ash’s lodestar ... Her direct accounts are wadded between allusions to Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Herman Melville and others, and a mass of detailed local history, mined deeply and purposefully ... Ash’s search for a sense of authenticity and belonging is part of the story-within-a-story that remains unresolved. When the regulars at the pub shout a chorus of welcome, a recalcitrant deckhand gifts her a cloudy lump of amber and the couple with whom she has been lodging hug her goodbye, it feels like another Eden from which, shackled to a different life, she is bound to turn wistfully away.
Dark, Salt, Clear is an extraordinary debut, a deeply researched and deeply felt work of narrative nonfiction. It is the kind of book that ziplines readers to a different world ... Ms. Ash explores questions about work, life and community and in so doing reflects on her own choices. On top of everything else, this book charts the author’s own passage to maturity as she re-evaluates what matters to her ... Dark, Salt, Clear is a deep dive into a distinctive culture rather than a tale of confronting adversity with a literal walk on the wild side.
Part coming-of-age memoir, part anthropological study, Dark, Salt, Clear glistens with deftly told snippets and character-rich stories: about the habits of fish and the art of catching them; about the bifurcating life of sea and shore; about 'salt-licked winds' and squawking seabirds; and, perhaps most poignantly, about Lamorna Ash herself, the 'emmet' or outsider, who so desperately desires to belong ... When she turns to issues such as quota revisions or Brexit (which has near-universal support in fishing communities), Ash does so not in facts and figures but via the lived realities of the fishermen ... With graceful lyricism and endearing humility, Ash gives this rage both voice and face.
Ash, who now works for an educational charity, has done her homework. As well as sea words, she peppers her narrative with history, from Cornwall’s origin story and tales of various fish riots, to how pilchard fishing was revived in 1981 when the entrepreneur Nick Howell bought the Newlyn Pilchards Works ... However, more irritating references are also abundant. She insists on shoehorning in her extensive literary knowledge, seeming not to realise that her colourful array of real-life characters stand up perfectly well on their own — there is no need to compare them to anyone from Conrad or Ovid. The numerous allusions to Woolf, Plath and Didion also grow tiresome quickly ... That said, her voracious appetite for reading often stands her in excellent stead as a writer ... Most importantly, the book brings alive a section of the country that many people overlook, enjoying it as a holiday spot or a fish supplier without paying much attention to the people who live there.
While Ash feels a deep connection with the men who spend their days at sea, she doesn’t shy away from the complicated truth of their lives ... Alcohol also plays a significant role in both the book and the lives of the fishermen ... While she writes with a precision beyond her years, this was one area where the author could have used a bit more self-reflection ... I couldn’t help but wonder if Ash would’ve had such intimate access to the villagers if she didn’t drink ... a meditation on place, class, and generational identity ... Ash grapples with this self-understanding through her discussions with Newlyn residents young and old and her research into the village’s deceased.
Dark, Salt, Clear is so soaked through with the sea, and fishing, that its pages almost feel damp to the touch, in the same way that cotton sheets do in seaside homes. And Ash is an exciting new talent. A mature voice. And a humble one. Not afraid to channel the insights of those who have gone before her – Lopez, Didion, Woolf, Thoreau.
In writing a book about a particular area, it helps to be named after a town there. Lamorna Ash revisits Cornwall, the wild area in the southwest of England, which is her mother’s ancestral home, in this accomplished and vividly written first book ... Ash’s gifts of observation illuminate many aspects of the community, from the way people interact in the pub to the geology of the area. She describes life on board a fishing boat with attention both to its ennui and its moments of surprise and strangeness ... The only flaw, though slight, is in the structure of the book. The chapters are linked by the common subject of the Cornwall town and its fishermen, but as a whole the book lacks narrative tension ... Ash’s gift for observation and love of people make this first book memorable.
Making an engaging book debut, Ash offers a gently told memoir recounting several extended visits to Newlyn, a Cornwall fishing village to which she feels 'unwittingly bound' ... Ash captures the color and rhythms of a close-knit community where life, livelihood, and death center on the sea ... Ash deftly weaves her own reflections with those of many other writers, including W.G. Sebald, Elizabeth Bishop, Walter Benjamin, Virginia Woolf, Simone Weil, and Barry Lopez, as she considers the indelible connection of identity to geography ... A graceful, lovely homage to people and place.
Playwright Ash turns a curious and empathetic eye on the small fishing village of Newlyn in Cornwall, England, weaving history, myth, and memoir into a gripping and affecting debut ... Ash succeeds in bringing the town vividly to life ... Ash leaves readers with a lasting impression of the toil, elation, and sadness faced by her subjects. Ash’s remarkably empathetic take on a small town and its outsized contribution to the fishing industry is one to savor.