Book Review: Four Mums in a Boat, by Helen Butters, Niki Doeg, Frances Davies and Janette Benaddi

“Friends who rowed 3,000 miles, broke a world record, and learnt a lot about life along the way”

That’s the strap line for Four Mums in a Boat. It is an enticing story, and an inspirational one. Four mums who took up rowing to fill a Saturday morning whilst their kids were at school, and dreamed big. From the river Ouse to the Atlantic, in a couple of hops of sea-rowing, and a lot of tea, cake and prosecco consumed along the way.

Why did I pick up this book? As part of my pre-MA preparation, in order to read around the non-fiction world of rowing and sailing, and partly because it is very much ordinary people doing extraordinary things, which fascinates me.

The positive. It is very easy reading, light, with a ‘contemporary fiction’ feel to it. A colloquial style, that conveys the ordinariness of the mums. The book is well-structured, and covers the build up through to the event. You get a sense of what the individual mums have taken on, and overcome to even get to the start line in the Canaries. It is strikingly honest – and shows up their naivety too; like how to ensure the batteries of Rose (the boat) remain charged, which they failed to do, mid-Ocean.  There are too few ‘woman power’ books out there, and the ‘can do’ attitude is inspiring. It is deeply impressive.

There were aspects I didn’t enjoy. It was a muddled narrative. The book was ghost-written, by Imogen Edwards-Jones, who clearly spent a lot of time with the women. I didn’t emerge with a clear sense of which mum was which at times, and the first person narrative at times, because of the switch from ‘we’ to one of the ‘I’s’, got confusing. Even the before and after photos weren’t named, and I couldn’t be bothered to trace through the other photos to work out which mum was which. It was easy to read, but superlative and cliche ridden in places. So many ‘incredibles’…. it grew wearing. As a narrative, it was also very ‘tell’, but I think that is as function of the book feeling like a dialogue.

What I wanted more of was the reflection, and this is where the book failed in its strap line for me. The reflections were in a few paragraphs each, which seemed brief given the weight given to the preparation and the execution. Perhaps this will come in the ‘what the mums did next…’?

Four Mums in a Boat is a title that will sell, and appeal to a certain audience therefore I suspect the publishers have directed the style and the writing to suit that. That said, it is a remarkable story.

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