Summary and book reviews of Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash

Dark, Salt, Clear

The Life of a Fishing Town

by Lamorna Ash

Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash X
Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash
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  • Published:
    Dec 2020, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

From an adventurous and discerning new voice reminiscent of Robert Macfarlane, a captivating portrait of a community eking out its living in a coastal landscape as stark and storied as it is beautiful.

Before arriving in Newlyn, a Cornish fishing village at the end of the railway line, Lamorna Ash was told that no fisherman would want a girl joining an expedition. Weeks later, the only female on board a trawler called the Filadelfia, she is heading out to sea with the dome of the sky above and the black waves below. Newlyn is a town of dramatic cliffs, crashing tides, and hardcore career fishermen-complex and difficult heroes who slowly open up to Ash about their lives and frustrations, first in the condensed space of the boat, and then in the rough pubs ashore. Determined to know the community on its own terms, Ash lodges in a spare room by the harbor and lets the village wash over her in all of its clamoring unruliness, thumping machinery, and tangled nets-its history, dialect, and centuries-old industry.

Moving between Ash's surprising, transformational journey aboard the Filadelfia and her astute observations of Newlyn's landscape and people, Dark, Salt, Clear is an assured work of indelible characters and a multilayered travelogue through a landscape both lovely and merciless. Ash's adventurous glint, her delicate observations, and her willingness to get under the skin of a place call to mind the work of Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, and Robert Macfarlane. This is an evocative journey and a fiercely auspicious debut.

Dropped things

By Friday morning on the Filadelfia, my ties to home have begun to unloosen, and I let the boat be the only place left in the world. From here on in, I learn not to count the days, not to think of my bed or my parents or my unbounded cross-coastal walks, or the reassuring sound of the surf coming into contact with the land. Instead, I start to think of our fishing boat as the centre of the universe, all life reduced to the single disc of sea surrounding us, like she is the attraction trapped in a snow globe. I imagine each boat in this way, solitary baubles floating over the seas, thirty miles out from the land.

I wake early and tear myself straight away out of my sleeping bag. My dreams have been coloured with yesterday's grey and I am keen to greet this new morning with as much energy as I can muster, casting from my mind the anxious thoughts I wake with: I cannot believe we still have three more days of fishing left... I wonder if mum knew I would be gone this ...

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BookBrowse Review


The writing itself has a lyrical quality to it, beautifully evoking a sense of place and the reverence Ash feels for Newlyn, its people and the majesty of the sea. That said, the author explains early in the book that in conversation, she has a tendency to speak excessively, straying off on tangents and offering up extraneous detail. This habit bleeds into her prose, the text sometimes feeling bloated and overlong as a result. Ash's intention is not to draw any groundbreaking conclusions. Instead, she aims to show that a place can have as much character and history as the people who live in it, capturing in words a way of life that is rapidly disappearing from villages across modern Britain...continued

Full Review Members Only (488 words).

(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
Ash’s gift for observation and love of people make this first book memorable. Readers can look forward to more from this already successful writer (she is only in her twenties). Whether she ventures next into science writing, fiction, or the further works of Lamorna Ash readers can anticipate being initiated into a humane and richly realized world, as they are in Dark, Salt, Clear.

Wall Street Journal
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. You’ll feel the damp sea air and smell the fish and ale in this vivid, multifaceted portrait of a hardworking, hard-drinking town and its salty residents, intimately connected to one another and to every aspect of its sea-to-market fishing industry. 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.

Library Journal
An unromantic yet beautiful look at life. Readers who appreciate travel stories full of local flavor, as well as those who have ever wondered how a seafood feast ends up on their plate, will enjoy this one.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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 to savor.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[E]ngaging...A graceful, lovely homage to people and place.

Author Blurb William Dalrymple, author of The Anarchy
Lamorna Ash is a beautiful prose stylist-precise, perceptive, humane and sensitive-who somehow manages to write in a way that is both earthy and poetic. Her debut book-full of fish and blood and salt and oilskins-marks the birth of a new star of non-fiction.

Author Blurb Philip Marsden, author of Rising Ground
With the heart of a novelist and the clarity of an ethnographer, Lamorna Ash reveals the Cornish fishing community of Newlyn in all its tension and hardship and wild joy. Dark, Salt, Clear is a book of deep immersion and a stunning debut from a brilliant writer.

Author Blurb Lara Maiklem, author of Mudlark
Ash writes with a maturity and wisdom that betrays her years and which took me to the very heart of Newlyn while questioning my sense of belonging. She opens up this traditional fishing town to reveal a close knit community struggling to stay afloat. Dark, Salt, Clear is a captivating homage.

Author Blurb Rebecca Giggs, author of Fathoms
Like some luminous fish risen from the deep, Dark, Salt, Clear bewitches with its radiance and intricacy. I can think of few other books in which such conscientious reporting maps onto a genuine love of place and history. Lamorna Ash is a revelation.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Lamorna Cove

Lamorna Cove beachFound on the Cornish coast, five miles from the port town of Penzance in Southwestern Britain, Lamorna Cove is a picture-perfect beauty spot. Adored by locals and much admired by visitors from far and wide, its charm has made it a sought-after location for TV and movies, perhaps most notably in the 2013 film Summer in February starring Dominic Cooper and Dan Stevens. It has also been a boundless source of inspiration for artists working in every medium for generations.

In Dark, Salt, Clear, author Lamorna Ash, whose mother named her after this picturesque spot, writes about moving from London to the town of Newlyn (just 13 miles from Lamorna) in a bid to connect with her heritage. Her time in Cornwall included a trip to the cove, and it...

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