The Narrowboat Summer: Book summary and reviews of The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson

The Narrowboat Summer

by Anne Youngson

The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson X
The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson
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  • Published in USA  Jan 2021
    336 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the author of Meet Me at the Museum, a charming novel of second chances, about three women, one dog, and the narrowboat that brings them together.

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 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. At summer's end, all three women must decide whether to return to the lives they left behind, or forge a new path forward.

Candid, hilarious, and uplifting, Anne Youngson's The Narrowboat Summer is a celebration of the power of friendship and new experiences to change one's life, at any age.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Welcome to the Reading Group Guide for The Narrowboat Summer. Please note: In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel—as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading The Narrowboat Summer, we respectfully suggest that you may want to wait before reviewing this guide.

  1. Discuss Eve's description of life on the Number One: "Eve concentrated on the experience of travelling. The rhythm of movement along a canal, the tramp of feet on the towpath like a song without notes. This was not about the destination; the point was the travelling, at a speed that allowed change to occur at the rate of one hundred ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Narrowboat Summer:

Anastasia says that being grown "means accepting we are all extraordinary in ordinary ways." What do you think of this reply? Do you agree? How are you extraordinary in an ordinary way?
We are all unique in our own ways - good, bad and beautiful. Whether it is in creating something wonderful even lovely cookies and cake, mending and fixing the broken things and people in our lives, making memorable moments for family and friends, ... - flute4u

Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of structure. How important are boundaries or lack thereof in your own life?
I believe daily routines is essential in life and beneficial — to a point. Routines helps me to work more efficiently and have greater control over my life. But planning out every moment of every day is overdoing it, in my opinion. There's... - sylviaann

Discuss the book's "optimistic" message: "It was good to leave, but there is pleasure in going back."
If the experience is life-changing, can you ever really go back to the way things were? - gvieth

Discuss the different kinds of family relationships we encounter in the novel. How are those similar to and different than the friendships?
The family relationships seemed a little detached. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about the background of Owen, Arthur, and Anastasia ( all the the characters, really) to have possibly better understood. - gvieth

Discuss, "taking photos as they travelled in the Number One was as unlikely as taking photos at her kitchen sink. This was not a holiday. It was life, going on in unrecorded moments."
I take and have always taken pictures --sometimes non-stop and others just to catch one fleeting moment. I don't think of pictures as something restricted to vacation time. Never do I consider being in a vehicle of any kind, car, ferry, train, ... - katherinep

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[A] pleasing buddy tale...Youngson's meditative story satisfies with its take on the joys of new friendship and the happiness that can be found in the mundane." - Publishers Weekly

"Having two women whose lives are adrift be surrounded by far more attention-grabbing folks is, unfortunately, a missed opportunity...While the tale is a lovely little meander, it's a shame the most exciting things happen off page. Like a canal, lovely but shallow." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fans of Jane Smiley and Hannah Mary McKinnon will enjoy Youngson's immersive, lyrical account of the women's narrowboat summer, especially the colorful characters they meet along their journey." - Booklist

This information about The Narrowboat Summer shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Djcminor

Wander on a Long Boat
What is the mark of a talented novelist? That question can have many answers. The one I have in mind by asking the question follows here: A talented novelist can tell many stories and surprise the readers by telling quite diverse stories. Such is the case with Anne Youngson who debuted Meet me at the Museum after she had a long career in the car industry.

I discovered Meet me at the Museum and reviewed it for my blog, calling it a gem of a novel. And it is! I have recommended it to many friends and chose it for a book club discussion. I also nominated it for the Books Sandwiched In series, a program sponsored by the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries and it was chosen for the book talk.

When I discovered Youngson was publishing The Narrowboat Summer, her next novel, in January 2021, I very much wanted to be an early reader. Luckily for me, I received an advance e-copy from BookBrowse.

Many readers could read Meet me at the Museum and then read The Narrowboat Summer and not realize the two are by the same author. Indeed, the two stories are that different, and yet, one will find commonalities surfacing, particularly in view of friendship, love, kindness, hope and forgiveness.

The Narrowboat Summer opens with three women, strangers to one another, and all at a crossroads in their lives, converging on a towpath of a canal. Eve and Sally are walking toward one another when they hear a terrible howling; clearly, the howling comes from a dog confined on the narrowboat named Number One. Is the dog hurt? In pain? Without a thought to themselves, both Eve and Sally jump onto the boat to rescue the dog even though as readers will come to learn Sally does not like dogs.

In order to rescue the dog, Eve and Sally break a window in the door on the Number One in order to reach the dog. About that time, Anastasia, the boat’s owner and, also coincidentally, the dog’s owner, arrives. Anastasia says to Eve and Sally, “You’ve been on my boat. You’d better explain why.”

Strangely, Anastasia approves Eve and Sally’s method of rescuing the dog rather than reporting Anastasia to the RSPCA. Eve and Sally offer to pay for replacing the glass in the door. After a short discussion, Anastasia refuses the offer to pay for the glass, but does allow Eve and Sally a chance to clean up the broken glass, so then, of course, the three must have tea.

Readers quickly learn that Eve, an engineer, has been made redundant at the Rambusch Corporation after an American outfit purchased the company. Sally has decided she no longer wishes to be married nor does she wish to continue living in the cottage on Beech Grove where she and Duncan, her husband, have raised their son and daughter. Anastasia’s cross to bear is illness. She needs tests and possibly an operation which may also require follow-up chemo treatments.

A chance meeting of three women, all in need of something with only Anastasia being the most certain of those needs, will set the three on a unusual course. Anastasia’s boat needs some repair and must go through the locks and down the canal to Chester where Owen who runs a boat repair yard will make the repairs. Although they know nothing about conducting a narrowboat along the canals, Eve and Sally agree to take Anastasia’s boat to Chester while Anastasia stays in Eve’s flat to have the medical tests she needs.

Over the course of the journey, Eve and Sally meet an unusual cast of characters, all of whom know Anastasia in some capacity. As the journey progresses, Eve and Sally become expert at handing the Number One. They fall into the water culture, meeting new people and learning a bit more about Anastasia along the way. However, the surprise to both Eve and Sally is that they also learn about themselves and their own capabilities.

Eve has a peripheral knowledge of Jacob and Vic, her neighbors in her building. Jacob befriends Anastasia, prickly as she is, and that friendship also creates a new relationship between Eve and Jacob and eventually Vic as well. These friendships deepen because Anastasia needs the new and old friends as she confronts her illness and thus connections begin to strengthen like bits of tether from the boat itself.

The Narrowboat Summer will be a winner for a book club discussion. First, the story is simply beguiling. Second, readers will find much to ponder as the three women’s stories unfold. Third, The Narrowboat Summer is just plain fun with the added bonus of engendering a thoughtful, stimulating discussion.

Katherine Pond

Midlife Does Not Always Bring Crises
How delightful to read a book about mature women navigating changes in their lives.

Eve, single and an engineer, has been fired by the company in which she has worked most of her life. Through dedication to the work she rose through the ranks of men to a prominent administrative position only to be found redundant and unnecessary.

Sally, a married woman with grown children, has found her life in the suburbs boring and unsatisfying. She has decided to leave her husband and, when revealing this bit of news to her hairdresser, has found that most people find that unacceptable and her reasons trivial.

Both women find themselves walking the towpath along the side of a canal in opposite directions, but both headed home with no idea of what they are going to do now that their lives have changed so drastically. As they meet, alongside a narrowboat named Number One, they come to a halt at the sound of distress emanating from the seemingly empty vessel--but for the thing wailing so distressingly, of course. They look in the windows and doors --finding no easy means of entrance, Eve breaks the window in the door, opens it and is almost bowled over by dog racing by and off into the distance.

Approaching along the path is an irritated older woman, the owner of the boat. She has left to do errands and the dog, Noah, as usual raised a racket to bring attention to his desolation as being locked up for the duration. And, as usual, some helpful soul came along to release him or at least commiserate as they berated his mistress, Anastasia, for her inhumane treatment. And, as usual, once free, he took off for parts unknown--not worrying her in the least--he always returns.

Since the women are already aboard, Anastasia invites them for tea--sort of--and so begins the tale. A woman, sick possibly dying, needing someone to take her narrowboat through English canals to a man's shop for repairs and maintenance. Two women, strangers to her and to each other, at loose ends, knowing not what they want to do with the path of unknowns rising before them. And so, Eve and Sally embark on a weeks long voyage in more ways than one or even two or three, as Anastasia, too, remains behind to face her unknown future in the form of medical tests and possible surgery.

Noah returns and off they all go--meeting so many others along the canals, familiar to and with Anastasia--who is not easily known nor abided. As the narrowboat travels ups and down through the locks of the beautiful countryside and into tunnels long, dark and dank, so too the adventures of these women and others move slowly to a satisfying end.

Loved it so much, I'm off to find Meet Me at the Museum. Enjoy!

toni brabender

Creating a new way of living
For those readers who were anxiously awaiting Anne Youngson's next book after enjoying "Meet me at the museum": you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a fast moving, action-packed thriller, this is not for you. I knew nothing of the canals and narrowboats of Britain and enjoyed learning quite a bit about them.

It is primarily a character study of Eve and Sally, two women who meet quite by accident at a time when both of their lives are at a crossroad. It tells of a summer when they meet Anastasia and decide to travel with her narrowboat while they decide the path for the rest of their lives. Anastasia, Trompette, Arthur, Jacob and Owen are also very interesting characters who have stories of their own. It is a tale of family : the family that we are born in to and the families that we create and how those families evolve.

I have read a few reviews that complain that it is too slow moving. I disagree. It is slow like a meandering ride on the canals. It is a summer trip and what occurs during those few months. The pace fit the story.

If you enjoy stories with interesting multi-dimensional characters and new environments or ways of life with which you may not be familiar, this tale is for you. I loved all of the characters and wanted to learn more about all of them. Although I would have been happy to learn more about their lives, I was also content with how the story ended. I felt it was perfect way to finish this tale.
It is always fun to read a book that breaks the usual mold and opens the reader up to new discoveries and insights. I highly recommend this book.

CarolT

Women I believe
Anne Youngson has done it again - created a world so warm and women so believable that I to turn the book back to the beginning so I can start again and meet them all once more. Not many authors make me want to do that any more, let alone those with believable older women with believable problems.

Dorothy

A Must-Read
What is the mark of a talented novelist? That question can have many answers. The one I have in mind by asking the question follows here: A talented novelist can tell many stories and surprise the readers by telling quite diverse stories. Such is the case with Anne Youngson who debuted Meet me at the Museum after she had a long career in the car industry.

I discovered Meet me at the Museum and reviewed it for my blog, calling it a gem of a novel. And it is! I have recommended it to many friends and chose it for a book club discussion. I also nominated it for the Books Sandwiched In series, a program sponsored by the Friends of the Tulsa City-County Libraries and it was chosen for the book talk.

When I discovered Youngson was publishing The Narrowboat Summer, her next novel, in January 2021, I very much wanted to be an early reader. Luckily for me, I received an advance e-copy from BookBrowse.

Many readers could read Meet me at the Museum and then read The Narrowboat Summer and not realize the two are by the same author. Indeed, the two stories are that different, and yet, one will find commonalities surfacing, particularly in view of friendship, love, kindness, hope and forgiveness.

The Narrowboat Summer opens with three women, strangers to one another, and all at a crossroads in their lives, converging on a towpath of a canal. Eve and Sally are walking toward one another when they hear a terrible howling; clearly, the howling comes from a dog confined on the narrowboat named Number One. Is the dog hurt? In pain? Without a thought to themselves, both Eve and Sally jump onto the boat to rescue the dog even though as readers will come to learn Sally does not like dogs.

In order to rescue the dog, Eve and Sally break a window in the door on the Number One in order to reach the dog. About that time, Anastasia, the boat’s owner and, also coincidentally, the dog’s owner, arrives. Anastasia says to Eve and Sally, “You’ve been on my boat. You’d better explain why.”

Strangely, Anastasia approves Eve and Sally’s method of rescuing the dog rather than reporting Anastasia to the RSPCA. Eve and Sally offer to pay for replacing the glass in the door. After a short discussion, Anastasia refuses the offer to pay for the glass, but does allow Eve and Sally a chance to clean up the broken glass, so then, of course, the three must have tea.

Readers quickly learn that Eve, an engineer, has been made redundant at the Rambusch Corporation after an American outfit purchased the company. Sally has decided she no longer wishes to be married nor does she wish to continue living in the cottage on Beech Grove where she and Duncan, her husband, have raised their son and daughter. Anastasia’s cross to bear is illness. She needs tests and possibly an operation which may also require follow-up chemo treatments.

A chance meeting of three women, all in need of something with only Anastasia being the most certain of those needs, will set the three on a unusual course. Anastasia’s boat needs some repair and must go through the locks and down the canal to Chester where Owen who runs a boat repair yard will make the repairs. Although they know nothing about conducting a narrowboat along the canals, Eve and Sally agree to take Anastasia’s boat to Chester while Anastasia stays in Eve’s flat to have the medical tests she needs.

Over the course of the journey, Eve and Sally meet an unusual cast of characters, all of whom know Anastasia in some capacity. As the journey progresses, Eve and Sally become expert at handing the Number One. They fall into the water culture, meeting new people and learning a bit more about Anastasia along the way. However, the surprise to both Eve and Sally is that they also learn about themselves and their own capabilities.

Eve has a peripheral knowledge of Jacob and Vic, her neighbors in her building. Jacob befriends Anastasia, prickly as she is, and that friendship also creates a new relationship between Eve and Jacob and eventually Vic as well. These friendships deepen because Anastasia needs the new and old friends as she confronts her illness and thus connections begin to strengthen like bits of tether from the boat itself.

The Narrowboat Summer will be a winner for a book club discussion. First, the story is simply beguiling. Second, readers will find much to ponder as the three women’s stories unfold. Third, The Narrowboat Summer is just plain fun with the added bonus of engendering a thoughtful, stimulating discussion.

To learn a bit about narrow boats and their history, I looked up some information. Originally, the narrow boats were prominent during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries as working boats which carried all manner of goods along the narrow canals. No longer needed to transport goods, the narrow boats became pleasure boats. Some people live on the boats full time while others rent them for a vacation or recreation.

The Number Ones, like Anastasia’s boat, were boats owned by self-employed boatmen.

Rana A., BookFabulous, Fairfax VA

A slow burner -- charming and moving
No sooner do Sally, Eve, and ailing Anastasia haphazardly meet for the first time over a howling dog than readers are treated to a leisurely contemplative tale centered around the unlikeliest of sisterhoods. During the time the women spend getting to know one another on their journey, they encounter a kaleidoscope of memorable eccentric – often funny, at times dubious - boat dwellers whose experiences and stories force the two middle-aged women into rethinking their own life choices.

If there's one thing that Youngson excels in it is her mastery in depicting the whole range of individual varieties of human interactions, emotions and eccentricities rendering her characters – both primary and peripheral - relatable, grounded in reality and redeemable despite their many flaws. As the characters' histories slowly unravel, we better understand not only the motives behind their interactions with each other, but also their personal struggles, past regrets and future longings as we are simultaneously treated to the challenges as well as the serenity and simplicity of a life lived on the water.

That said, the novel's themes, around friendship, love, kindness, hope and forgiveness, makes "The Narrowboat Summer" a perfect bookclub choice.

...16 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Anne Youngson Author Biography

Photo: Lisa Hill

Anne Youngson is retired and lives in Oxfordshire. She has two children and three grandchildren to date. Her debut novel, Meet Me at the Museum, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.

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Other books by Anne Youngson at BookBrowse
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The Narrowboat Summer
by Anne Youngson
From the author of Meet Me at the Museum, a charming novel of second chances.
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