February Tea and a Book — The Narrowboat Summer, by Anne Youngson

Feb 28, 2023 |

Once again I’m here at the very end of the month with my “Tea and a Book” offering: The Narrowboat Summer (2021) by Anne Youngson. Those not quite so fascinated by Gothic horror may be pleased to learn that this month’s featured novel is a story of female friendship on the waterways of England.

Meet Eve, who has left 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, a defiantly independent narrowboat-dweller, who is suddenly landlocked and vulnerable.

Before they quite know what they’ve done, Sally and Eve agree to drive Anastasia’s narrowboat on a journey through the canals of England, as she awaits a life-saving operation. As they glide gently – and not so gently – through the countryside, the eccentricities and challenges of narrowboat life draw them inexorably together, and a tender and unforgettable story unfolds.
(synopsis borrowed from Goodreads)

Steve and I have long been fascinated by the narrowboats we encountered during our walks in Oxfordshire and beyond. It’s always fascinating to watch them maneuver in heavy traffic and make their way through the various locks they encounter along the way. There’s a lot of diversity in the boats, as well. Some are quite luxurious, like floating cottages, while others are more utilitarian or downright shabby.

What I loved about this book:
The focus on friendship and teamwork (rather than romance) was refreshing. I love stories in which the characters learn a new skill and gain perspective on what is truly important to them. Also, I rather appreciated that the narrative meandered gently just like a boat on a canal. No need to tear through the book to see how everything turned out. It was nice just to go along for the ride.

A favorite passage:

This was a community of people connected, in one way or another, with the canals. Known to each other, even if meetings such as this were occasional and occurred by chance. It was a community rooted in a geography that was defined by its distance end to end rather than by boundaries round a fixed center.

In case you wish to learn more about the narrowboat life, here’s a NYT article about English narrowboats.
And there’s also a very informative website on Narrowboat Basics. I’m intrigued!

What’s for tea? Nothing too fancy — just a mug of Assam with milk and sugar, plus a sweet biscuit on the side. A good kickstart for an afternoon on the canal.

ALSO: Just in case you were hoping for a spooky reading option this month, I can recommend the wonderfully haunting and bizarre Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. It’s a rather quirky horror option–not like anything else I’ve read–and I look forward to reading more from Kingfisher.

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