Lamorna Ash knows she’s set herself an impossible task. Th at of attempting to entirely convey a place and its people on paper. But she gives it a go anyway, becoming a temporary resident of the Cornish fishing town of Newlyn and allowing its activities, atmosphere and inhabitants to break over her like a wave.
She spends hours in pubs, and days and nights out on fishing boats, mucking in with the crews and gorily gutting fish, all the while absorbing the salty stories pouring out of those around her. She observes as much as she absorbs, noting the lack of opportunities for youngsters, the husks many Cornish fishing villages have become as their souls have been gouged out by holiday cottages, and the valorising of fishermen – given free rides by taxi drivers and adored by women for the way they return from the sea a little different every time.
For a moment she finds belonging, downing shots with a favourite trawler gang on a Tuesday afternoon aft er landing a particularly valuable catch. ‘In Newlyn, whoever is there, regardless of their age or walk of life, becomes your crew for the night.’ But, she notes, you can smother a place by wanting to be part of it too much. She doesn’t belong to Newlyn she realises, but she has made a very good friend.
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.
Modest, brave and adventurous, plunging right into the heart of the aff ray but never allowing her own tales of derring-do to eclipse those of her subjects. There’s something both old-fashioned and generous in that, and it should serve her very well.