So beautiful are her passages about the environment she holidays in or walks through you could almost miss the dangerous hint of menace underlying much of it as she sorts through her emotions and the past. Like stepping into a covered sinkhole suddenly you can find yourself enveloped in the heartbreaking centre of her pressing dilemmas. The facts of these hit the reader with their stark truth such as this passage about her husband: “The argument that had railed over the baby, the possibility of the baby, the things that had been said, that could not now be unsaid lay between us like a badly made rope bridge upon which I dared not trust my weight.” The turmoil of a couple who experience the loss of an unborn child is sensitively handled. The only other book I can think of that has approached this subject with as much meaning is Niven Govinden’s powerful novel “Black Bread White Beer”. A sense of mourning is keenly felt as a persistent undercurrent in Norbury’s day to day life. Alongside encounters with beauty, joy and disappointment “I carried my dead in a net, a clattering catch of bones, of promise, of might-have-been.” The potential for possible alternative futures if loved ones had lived is deeply felt in all experience.
Family is key factor in understanding who we are. Norbury elegantly describes this: “Genealogy allows us to construct our identities from our own myths and legends, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Or we can use the stories as a starting point from where we might like to go, a legacy to be built on or rebelled against.” Without this foundation it’s difficult to build a story of one’s own. The author addresses not only the emotionally fraught experience of an adoptee trying to connect with the family she was born into, but also the logical complications with doing so. The surprising results of her discoveries are both devastating and inspiringly hopeful.
It’s natural to compare this memoir about grief with last year’s multi-award winning brilliant book “H is for Hawk” about a woman dealing with the loss of her father. However, Norbury’s sensitive account is entirely distinctive. The writing is much more poetic and quick-shifting – more rooted in myth - in comparison to Macdonald’s rigorously-intellectual and regimental prose. Macdonald remains intensely confined and solitary with the goshawk she trains whereas Norbury attempts to assuage despair through walking, searching and striving to connect with the environment and others. Norbury’s book presents a landscape heavily ensconced in a lineage within which she is struggling to understand her place due to her circumstances and the fettered nature of her bloodline. Of course, both books give equally valid perspectives, but I’m just trying to make the point that they are rather different in their approach and conclusions.
This book stands on its own as a powerful account of human experience. However, it will also no doubt give people who have experienced similar life challenges a touchstone of understanding and mental avenues through which they can process their feelings. Norbury doesn’t just deal with the riotous emotions which accompany her journey, but also the blunt reality of financial strain and emotional tension within a relationship that accompany severe loss and physical illness. This touching and elegantly-constructed memoir is an impressive story that needed to be told.