Author: Anne Youngson
Publication: Flatiron Books, hardcover, 2020
Setting: EnglandDescription: Three women meet by chance and reassess their priorities in this novel about friendship and second chances. The story begins with Eve Warburton on the towpath of a canal not far from London, carrying all her office paraphernalia in a shopping bag after being pushed out of her high-powered engineering job. Sally Allsop has walked away from her husband after 25 years of marriage and just encountered Eve near a dark-blue narrowboat when they both hear a terrible noise coming from the boat. When they decide it’s a dog howling, the question is whether they should walk away. But, resignedly, Eve climbs onto the boat and breaks a window to rescue the dog – who promptly runs away. They wait guiltily for the owner of the Number One to return so they can apologize. When she invites them in for tea, they learn she is ill and needs her boat driven to Chester. Eve and Sally look at each other and slowly commit to spending the next four months living on Anastasia’s boat and taking it (and the dog, which howls and runs away often) to a distant shipyard for repair.
My Impression: This is a captivating story that reminded me of Katie Fforde’s early and best work. The three women are delightfully quirky and their evolving friendship is surprisingly plausible although their interests are very different. Youngson makes learning how to operate a canal boat and living in close quarters with a complete stranger seem like a perfectly reasonable way for Eve and Sally to spend a summer, while Anastasia moves into Eve’s apartment to undergo an operation. Of course, the trip down the canal gives Eve the space to figure out what kind of career she wants for her next act, while Sally has to decide whether her marriage is really over.
On a practical level, I worried about the security of the narrowboat as I did not want anything bad to happen to these intrepid heroines! While Anastasia is a tough old lady and has weathered all sorts of storms, the author does not pretend this canal life is without its dangers. The most interesting minor characters are a couple on a boat the Number One keeps running into: a very young woman named Trompette and her ne’er do well boyfriend Billy, who reminds me of the lead in Carousel. The sense of danger around Billy was vividly depicted.
|UK title and cover|
This is my first recommendation for your summer reading list (assuming it ever comes; I have the heat on). I admired Youngson most when I realized she was not going to couple everyone off at the end of the book, so in that sense, it was not like Katie Forde at all. I immediately requested her first book from the library, Meet Me at the Museum, but it accidentally came as an audiobook, and I decided epistolary novels work better for me in book form. I will re-check it out soon.