I am delighted to be sharing another one of my ‘off the Book Shelf/Book Trolley’ reviews; The Boat Girls by Margaret Mayhew.
The Boat Girls by Margaret Mayhew
1943: THREE GIRLS GO THE EXTRA MILE TO DO THEIR BIT FOR THE WAR EFFORT.
Frances – her life of seeming privilege has been a lonely one. Brave and strong, stifled by her traditional upbringing, she falls for a most unsuitable man.
Prudence – timid and conventional, her horizons have never strayed beyond her job as a bank clerk in Croydon until the war brings her new experiences.
Rosalind – a beautiful, flame-haired actress who catches the eye of Frances’s stuffy elder brother, the heir to an ancestral mansion.
The three become friends when they join the band of women working the canal boats, delivering goods and doing a man’s job while the men are away fighting. A tough, unglamorous task – but one which brings them all unexpected rewards.
Heartwarming, insightful and enjoyable!
I am incredibly fussy when it comes to the saga’s now, I’m not sure where my fussiness with their genre came from I suppose reading tastes change don’t they? Yet this one appealed to me, I hadn’t heard of the work women did on the canals during the war before reading this I think that is one of the reasons why this appealed to me as much as it did it steps away from the well-trodden path of the genre and highlights part of history which is relatively unknown.
The Boat Girls follows three very different young women as they walk out of their comfort zones and do their part for the war effort. Each woman is as different from the next and yet they come together, they toil, work hard and forge lifelong friendships and new perspectives they would never have had before the war.
Frances comes from an upper-crust family, but despite living in a huge mansion house and on the outside she is nothing but a spoiled little rich girl she is the complete opposite. Since her mother died she has stepped into her mother’s shoes and has become a sole carer for her father, maid, cook, and housekeeper.
She does love her father dearly, but the strain of caring for him and the mundane daily life is now taking its toll on her, she wants something else to occupy her and prove not just to her suffocating brother but to herself that she can do something other than the good little girl at home.
I really connected with Frances, there is so much of her story that not only appealed to me but also had me nodding in complete agreement. Being a carer, I completely understand all of her frustrations and the need to do something for yourself.
Prudence is a shy and timid little thing, working day in and day out in a mundane job at the bank alongside her father she is buffeted about and her life is pre-planned out for her by her slightly controlling father. He means well, but he is wrapping Prue up in cotton wool and trying to mould her into something she isn’t.
She wants more than what she has so when the war erupts and women are doing their part this is the perfect opportunity for Prue to finally step out of her parent’s coddling embrace.
I really love Prue, she is a shy and mouselike creature, but her character developed hugely once she was out of the control of her manipulative father. She is the one that surprised me the most out of the three women and I loved her ending, it was very fitting for her.
Finally, Rosalind, an actress who knows what she wants in life, is a flamed-haired siren full of exuberance and confidence and has one goal in life; to have her name in the lights and be the best theatre actress she can be.
She has been treading the boards since she was a little girl but over the years she has been overlooked for the bigger roles. Ros isn’t liked the other two girls, she is no wilting wallflower, but she has guts and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, she has done things she isn’t proud of and is completely unapologetic for who she is (you go girl) yet there is so much kindness within her, she genuinely cares but she is also tired of what she has to do to get a break. Which is one of the reasons she chose to join the boats!
Ros is easily my favourite of the three, she is full of laughter and high jinx, and she stirs up trouble and controversy wherever she goes. I love how she takes Prue under her wing and really looks after the shy young woman, I wasn’t at first keen on the budding relationship between her and Frances’s brother, it felt as though they were being pushed together slightly by the author. Her ending was satisfying, did I warm to romance which was obviously coming? I’m still not sure, but somehow it worked!
I loved getting to know each of the women and how they developed throughout the book. They discovered themselves and proved if needed that they don’t just have to be how others see them and they are strong indipendant determined women.
I took each of the women to heart; Frances is caring and resilient, Prudence is shy but more than willing to throw herself into any task and Rosalind is hugely confident and kind, especially to Prue who she took under her wing.
They worked well as a team and their friendship is real and relatable, they encouraged and helped one other. I was a little saddened that they didn’t all come together in the end, but each went their own way and re-settled into their lives again.
I was a little disappointed by the ending, a final couple of chapters felt rushed, I was hoping for a different outcome, especially for one particular woman (I won’t say too who as it would spoil it) her ending was disappointing and didn’t work for me. I am a romantic at heart I was drawn to a more fairytale-esque ending of sailing off with her rugged Gypsy, but they were both realists so we had a different ending completely to what I would have preferred.
Apart from that, I really loved this book. I like that it shares the relatively untold stories of women who jumped aboard and did their bit for the war effort. They had to face a lot of scrutiny and snobbishness not only from people in their own lives but also from the boating community who never quite accepted the women.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning about what the women had to go through the simple tasks such as learning the locks, how to load and even steering the long boats and the consequences of running aground then there are the canal/boat communities’ unwritten rules even the simplest thing of who can tie up where and who should go out first in the morning, I found it fascinating!
The Boat Girls is an interesting and engaging historical fiction, with likeable and relatable characters, an insightful plot and inspiring real history all of which make for a wonderful read.
Definitely, a must-read for anyone who loves historical fiction/sagas!