#BookReview Three Women and a Boat by Anne Youngson @DoubledayUK

Three Women and a BoatAbout the Book

“Eve expected Sally to come festooned with suitcases and overnight bags packed with everything she owned, but she was wrong. She arrived on foot, with a rucksack and a carrier bag.
‘I just walked away,’ she said, climbing on to the boat. Eve knew what she meant.”

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 canal boat life draw them inexorably together, and a tender and unforgettable story unfolds.

Format: Hardcover (336 pages)                Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: 12th November 2020 Genre: Contemporary Fiction

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My Review

I really enjoyed Anne Youngson’s debut novel, Meet Me at the Museum, and was delighted to have the opportunity to meet her and have her sign my copy at Henley Literary Festival in 2018. I’m happy to say, Three Women and a Boat was an equal delight.

I loved the varied nature of the people Eve and Sally encounter on their journey, made up of what are described as “the picturesque, the not-quite-normal and the colourful“. Individuals such as Arthur with his peripatetic lifestyle, or Trompette and Billy who live aboard the narrowboat Grimm and entertain audiences with stories about canal history (one of which reminded me of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novel, The Wench Is Dead) or occasional ghostly goings on. And I mustn’t forget Noah the dog, the catalyst for bringing the three women together.

There is a real sense of community amongst the canal folk. “Known to each other, even if meetings such as this were occasional and occurred by chance. It was a community rooted in geography that was defined by its distance end to end rather than by boundaries round a fixed centre“.

It was fascinating to witness how Sally and Eve change over the space of a few weeks, finding within themselves a sense of purpose or the ability to exist in the moment that they hadn’t before. As Eve says to Sally, “You are the person you’ve always been, but that person is only now rising to the surface.” For example, Sally finds herself adapting to “canal time, where nothing is accomplished quickly, and times of arrival may be agreed in terms of a given week rather a given hour.”

That feeling of peace, restfulness and the time to notice and appreciate things really comes across through what the author calls the ‘music’ of the canal. “All the whispers, gurgles, whistles, rustles, cries and songs of the water and the wildlife and the fringe of vegetation”. Of course, to begin with, it’s not all plain sailing (if you’ll forgive the pun) with Eve and Sally facing the challenge of navigating the Number One safely through flights of locks and long, narrow tunnels, not to mention retrieving items lost overboard.

Of course, none of these experiences would have been possible without Eve and Sally’s chance meeting with Anastasia. She is a wonderful character who, although appearing rather irascible to begin with, is revealed, as the book progresses, to be someone who has had a positive impact on the lives of countless others. “There was about Anastasia a certainty and honesty that stiffened you up, raised your standards, held you accountable. And without her, it might be impossible to maintain.” She brings the same steely determination and sense of independence to her own situation although even she is forced to accept the help of others eventually. I think Anastasia’s words of wisdom could justify a whole book to themselves but I particularly liked her observation that growing up is about “accepting we are all extraordinary in ordinary ways“.

The ending of the book is not so much a resolution of the story as much as a resolution by each character that different possibilities lie ahead for them. Three Women and a Boat is an enchanting story full of warmth and insight, perfect for those in need of an uplifting read or for fans of the TV series Great Canal Journeys.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Doubleday via NetGalley

In three words: Warm, insightful, uplifting

Try something similar: How To Belong by Sarah Franklin

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About the Author

Anne Youngson lives in Oxfordshire and is married with two children and three grandchildren. Meet Me at the Museum, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the Costa Best First Novel Award and won the inaugural Paul Torday Prize for debut fiction by writers over sixty. Her new novel is also about women finding new experiences and friendships when they least expect it. Her work is published around the world.

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