Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamona Ash

4.5 out of 5 stars

Lamorna Ash has headed out of London to Cornwall to Newlyn, a fishing town near Land’s End. The idyllic place of holidays past seems very different when you are living there. The Cornish are not very receptive to incomers, in particular those who want to buy properties there for a second home, driving the prices up so locals are not able to afford to live in the places that they grew up.

She is there because she is feeling lost and disconnected in London and is hoping that being back in the county her mother grew up in will help re-root her once again. She is welcomed by Denise wearing a similar blue striped top at Penzance Station. They have a slightly nervous conversation over tea and she heads up to bed, lulled to sleep by the booms of the waves against the harbour wall.

It is the same sound that wakes her in the morning and there is a waft of bacon cooking so she heads downstairs quickly. That day is the Newlyn tradition of the Lamorna Walk, where pretty much the whole town walks up the coastal path to the Lamorna Cove for a rowdy piss up at the Lamorna Wink pub and staggers back after. She knew she was named after a part of Cornwall, but didn’t expect to be taking part in something like this. She ends up drinking all day and by the end has made some firm friends.

What she really wants to do though is to secure a berth on a trawler. She is told that doing this is nigh on impossible. There are various superstitions to do with fishing, one is not being allowed to mention the word rabbit whilst aboard for some reason, the other is the presence of women on fishing vessels. It seems that Ash’s plan to be a crew member of a fishing boat may fall at the first hurdle. But she gets lucky, she talks to someone called David who has a share in a boat called the Crystal Sea and he is more than happy to have other along for the ride, even if they are there to liven the trip up a bit if they are ill.

Her first trip out to sea is cut short after a force 8 gales sweeps in, but even those few days are enough to light a fire inside to want to do this again and again. She bumps into Don, skipper of the Filadelfia and arranging a trip out on his boat is as straightforward as arranging a beer in a pub. Don is quite a character and so are the rest of his crew as she meets them on board. She will be away for seven days and night with these men and she is quickly accepted into their circle. Seasickness looms in the background but she is there to work for her board and is helping out with gutting the fish.

Onshore she is absorbed into the social life of the town, mostly because the couple she is staying with, know so many people. She plays pool badly in the Legion and contributes to the swear jar often. She manages to blag a trip on a crabber and finds it hard heavy work moving the pots around on the boat. The sea has got a hold on her now as it has with the other fishermen.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ash has a lyrical and distinct voice as she writes about the real side of Cornwall and the people that live there. And it is those people that she shares pints with, stands alongside in a fishing boat gutting fish that make this book. They are rich and complex characters who tell her their anxieties, fears, hope and dreams as she gets to know them better and settles into life in the town. Highly recommended.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    This does sound good although I’m a bit wary after reading that other one set in Newlyn and Mousehole “The Swordfish and the Star” which a lot of the locals were not keen on at all. I will ask my local friends what they think of this one as it does call to me!

    • Paul

      I quite liked The Swordfish and the Star, but I can see how it would wind some people up!

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