EXCERPT: As they approach the moored boat, the sun inserts a finger of light between the clouds and it is all at once a lovely day, at that moment, on that towpath. At almost the same instant, when the two women are close enough to each other for a nod and a smile of greeting, if either or both of them thought that was appropriate – they are complete strangers, so it seems unlikely – at that precise moment, the narrowboat begins to howl. It howls as if it were a mezzo-soprano in mid-aria spotting her husband committing adultery in the stalls while being impaled from behind by a careless spear carrier. Both women stop walking.
ABOUT ‘THREE WOMEN AND A BOAT’: Meet Eve, who has departed from her thirty-year career to become a Free Spirit; Sally, who has waved goodbye to her indifferent husband and two grown-up children; and Anastasia: defiantly independent narrowboat-dweller, suddenly vulnerable as she awaits a life-saving operation.
Inexperienced and ill-equipped, Sally and Eve embark upon a journey through the canals of England, guided by the remote and unsympathetic Anastasia. As they glide gently – and not so gently – through the countryside, the eccentricities and challenges of canalboat life draw them inexorably together, and a tender and unforgettable story unfolds.
MY THOUGHTS: I enjoyed this meander along the canals in a narrowboat as these three women, all strangers to one another, come to terms with the changes in their lives. Although it could almost be Four Women and Two Boats as Trompette’s life is also turned upside down and she eventually joins Anastasia, Eve and Sally.
What starts out as a chance meeting between two strangers attempting to rescue a hysterical dog, soon encompasses a third stranger, owner of said hysterical dog, and the chance to help one another out.
Sally has reached a watershed in her personal life. She is no longer able to go through the motions of being wife, mother, classroom assistant, and resident of 42 Beech Grove which, incidentally, has no Beech trees, let alone a grove of them or anything else. She has gone through life trying to work out what the person she is talking to wants her to say, and then saying it, forever being nice.
Eve has lost her job. She had thought that she was safe as one of an insignificant minority of women in her field of engineering. She has worked her way up from design engineer to team leader to project manager to director, and had begun to think that she belonged. Until she found that she didn’t. Her career has kept her on the move, from one plant to another, one office to another, one project to another. She has managed her relationships in the same way, with her eye always on where she is going, never expecting or wanting permanence. She has always been in control, knowing her boundaries and parameters. Suddenly she is without this definition and finds it unsettling.
Anastasia is dying, or may be. She’s not 100% sure. There’s a chance that whatever is wrong with her can be made to go away, which will give her the opportunity to die of something else at a later date. But it’s a complicated process, and she’s not sure she has the stamina for it, and wonders if it might not, in the long run, be easier to die from what she has now. She needs more information, and while she gathers it she needs someone to take her boat on to where it’s booked in at the dry dock for its annual inspection and cleaning.
And so the journey begins, populated by other people who drop in and out of the tale, Trompette and Billy, Arthur, Jacob and Vic, and Owen who all have equally fascinating stories of their own.
This is a charming story of unexpected friendship, kindness, and how helping others can help you to find your own way. I loved the characters, all of them. Each one fits into the story as snugly as a jigsaw piece into a puzzle, and each enhances the other. I loved Anastasia’s feistyness, Sally’s kindness, Eve’s determination. Three Women and a Boat made me think about the disparity between how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we think others see us. It made me think about a lot of things, like how easy it is to bury our essential selves under our day to day commitments, and how important it is that we don’t lose our essence.
Three Women and a Boat is a lovely read. Don’t rush through it. It’s a book to linger over, to contemplate. It’s a book that will engender many emotions as you read, and one that is pleasing, satisfying and comforting. And along the way you will learn a little of the history of narrowboats and the British canal system.
‘Being grown up doesn’t mean that we are all doomed to be ordinary. It means accepting that we are all extraordinary in ordinary ways.’
THE AUTHOR: Anne Youngson worked for many years in senior management in the car industry before embarking on a creative career as a writer. She has supported many charities in governance roles, including Chair of the Writers in Prison Network, which provided residencies in prisons for writers. She lives in Oxfordshire and is married with two children and three grandchildren to date.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Random House UK, Transworld Publishers via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of Three Women and a Boat by Anne Youngson for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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