The Narrowboat Girls by Rosie Archer - book review

Three young women seeking a new life find solace, adventure and friendship on England’s canal networks in a moving and nostalgic novel from popular saga queen Rosie Archer.

After a series of novels featuring the tough women who worked at Gosport’s Royal Navy Armament Depot during the Second World War and a saga focusing on Gosport’s ferry services, Archer treads exciting new territory as she explores the wartime work of women on vital waterways transportation.

Brimming with nostalgia, real-life drama, romance and friendships, The Narrowboat Girls will delight Archer’s army of fans who love her sagas… all inspired by the things that have touched her own life, and the emotions she has experienced along the way.

In Gosport in 1944, Elsie Barker’s life is in pieces. Her marriage is over after her solicitor husband admits to having an affair with another woman who is now pregnant with his child, and their home is shortly to be sold.

A new start is what 30-year-old Elsie needs now more than anything but how is she going to do that when she only works part-time at Priddy’s Hard munitions factory, helping the war effort, and has little money she can call her own?

When her friend at Priddy’s, Izzy Baker, a smart and sassy 19-year-old who is planning an escape from her abusive boyfriend, tells Elsie about the jobs going for women as narrowboat crew on the canals between London and Coventry, she jumps at the chance to join her.

With so many men away fighting in Europe, the vital work of transporting goods around Britain’s waterways is now open to women.

Their new boss, Dorothy Trent, is kind and fair, but it’s clear she has a secret of her own. Their crew is completed by Tallulah ‘Tolly’ Whitehead, another girl seeking a fresh start and a new vocation now that her dream job has been snatched away.

The work is hard and the few men left on the canals don’t appreciate mere girls doing their job, but the women forge close friendships in the face of adversity, bonds that will see them through the darkest times and make all the hardships worthwhile.

What none of them could have predicted though is just how much working on the canals will change their lives. Could it really be that what started as a means of escape will end up giving each of them everything they ever wanted?

Archer brings to vivid life the tough war years and the constrictions placed on women struggling to make their way in a man’s world. However, the six years of war did open up new avenues of work opportunities for women and The Narrowboat Girls provides a fascinating portrait of life on the waterways.

Well-researched and full of wartime detail, saga fans can expect plenty of passion, drama, tears and laughter as we follow Dorothy, Elsie, Izzy and Tolly on their journey of self-discovery.

(Quercus, paperback, £6.99)

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