The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury

The Fish Ladder

Title: The Fish Ladder
Author: Katharine Norbury
Rating Out of 5: 5 (I will read this again and again and again)
My Bookshelves:
 Biographies, The CoastEasy readingMemoirs
Pace: Slow
Format: Novel
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Year: 2015
5th sentence, 74th page: But if we were in the wrong place, so too had Ieuan Lleyn been, when he came here in 1799.

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Katharine Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent. Raised by loving adoptive parents, she grew into a wanderer, drawn by the beauty of the British countryside.

One summer, following the miscarriage of a much-longer-for child, Katharine sets out – accompanied by her nine-year-old daughter, Evie – with the idea of following a river from the sea to its source. The luminously observed landscape provides both a constant and a context to their expeditions. But what begins as a diversion from grief soon evolves into a journey to the source of life itself, when a chance circumstance forces Katharine to the door of the woman who gave her up all those years ago.

Combining travelogue, memoir, exquisite nature writing, fragments of poetry and tales from Celtic mythology, The Fish Ladder has a rare emotional resonance. A portrait of motherhood, of a literary marriage and a hymn to the adoptive family, this captivating story of self-discovery is, most of all, an exploration of the extraordinary majesty of the natural world. Imbued with a keen and joyful intelligence, this original and life-affirming book is set to become a classic of its genre.


I needed to read a book with a river on the cover. When I googled such a requirement, this is one of the few books that came up. And man, am I glad that it did. There is just something about the winding, lazy way in which Norbury tells her story that was both completely relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. Although I have nothing to compare her adventures to, I almost feel like there is a part of me that has now been discovered and it gives me the inspiration to go forth into my own life and keep finding my own way forward.

Unlike a lot of the memoirs that I have recently read, there isn’t really a central story that is outlined here. Not one specific journey or moment of epiphany that really strikes out at me. Instead, there is the central theme of family and motherhood. The idea that even though she is adopted, there are strong familial ties between Katharine and her adoptive family. But there is also a strong tie to the woman who gave her up for adoption and it is this that really drives the feeling of longing forward and into the reader a Katharine’s beautiful words unfold.

This wasn’t one of those earth shatteringly amazing stories. It probably hasn’t changed my life in anyway. But it was incredibly beautiful. And immensely easy to read. It was a great lazy Sunday read to sink my brain into while I was trying to unwind at the end of the long day. And it certainly reminded me of how lucky and grateful I am to have the mother and family that I have.

<- Laughing All the Way to the MosqueBecoming ->

Image source: Bloomsbury

13 thoughts on “The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury

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