Welcome to my book review of Water Gypsies by Annie Murray. I was really excited to reading this book as soon as I got it for two reasons. Firstly, Annie Murray is one of my favourite authors. Her style of writing and vivid descriptions capture my imagination instantly. Annie’s books often run in a series of at least two which I love. Its great that you can follow the story of the characters over a longer time period. Secondly, I am obsessed with canal boats and always have been since an early age. I buy decorative items from a local man who paints the floral detail on canal boats for a living. As a side-line, he paints the same detail onto pots, pans and other beautiful pieces.
It is 1942, and after a childhood of suffering in Birmingham, Maryann Bartholomew has built a life of happiness and safety with her husband Joel and their children, working the canals on his narrowboat, the Esther Jane. But the back-breaking work and constant childbearing take their toll on Maryann, and the tragic loss of her old friend Nancy, followed by a further pregnancy lead her to a desperate act which nearly costs her her life.
The walls of her security are broken down when Joel suffers an accident, and to keep the boats working, Maryann is forced to allow Sylvia and Dot, two wartime volunteers, into the privacy of their life. And when she discovers that someone keeps calling for her at Birmingham’s Tyseley Wharf, the dark memories of her past begin to overwhelm her life. For that someone, who seems to be watching her every move, is becoming more dangerous than even she could imagine…
Part of a series?
What I didn’t realise when I bought this book was that it was part two in a series. I had luckily already read the first book called “The narrowboat girl” a few years previously. As soon as I started on “Water gypsies”, I was transported back into the world of canal boats. It was as if I had read both books one after the other. Whilst you can still read “Water gypsies” without having read “The narrowboat girl”, I’d recommend reading them in order. It gives you a better understanding of what character Maryann’s childhood was like before she became a boat woman.
“Water gypsies” tells a more in-depth story of what life was really like for a boat woman in the 1940s. The hardships that were faced back then are something that we don’t think about now. In fact, for a lot of us, we just see how pretty canal boats are. We forget the fact that they were once working boats.
I felt there was two main points to the story. Firstly, the way of life for boat families, where they struggled with large families, little money, and hard work. Secondly, the changes that were made as a result of the outbreak of the second world war.
From the start of the book I was gripped which is great. Sometimes I feel when starting a book, the story line is slow on the uptake. There were so many unexpected twists and turns throughout the story that I just simply struggled put the book down. Annie’s wonderful descriptions of inside the boat caught my imagination so much that I could almost imagine myself being there. Her use of local slang also had me reading the book in my head with a Birmingham accent. This was where the character Maryann originated.
This book is one of the best saga genre books that I have read in a very long time. I have to admit that I actually read the last quarter of the book in one go. It was just such a gripping and eventful end to the story. I finally finished it at 2am but it was so worth the late night. If you love a little bit of history alongside your romance and saga books, you’ll love Water Gypsies by Annie Murray. For more book recommendations, head over to my Instagram.