A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: Enjoyable, intimate romantic drama between two memorable protagonists in an unusual and lovingly detailed setting.
When the boat’s a rockin’, don’t come knockin’!
Out-and-proud travel writer Dan Taylor can’t steer a boat to save his life, but that doesn’t stop him from accepting an assignment to write up a narrowboat holiday. Instead of a change of pace from city life, though, the canal seems dull as ditchwater. Until he crashes into the boat of a half-naked, tattooed, pierced man whose rugged, penniless appearance is at odds with a posh accent.
Still smarting from past betrayal, Robin Hamilton’s “closet” is his narrowboat, his refuge from outrageous, provocative men like Dan. Yet he can’t seem to stop himself from rescuing the hopelessly out-of-place city boy from one scrape after another. Until he finds himself giving in to reluctant attraction, even considering a brief, harmless fling.
After all, in less than a week, Dan’s going back to his London diet of casual hook-ups and friends with benefits.
Determined not to fall in love, both men dive into one week of indulgence…only to find themselves drawn deep into an undertow of escalating intimacy and emotional intensity. Troubled waters neither of them expected…or wanted.
As the blurb tells us, travel writer Dan is on a junket to write about a narrowboat holiday on the canals near Bath. Dan’s excited as he’s been commissioned to photograph the article as well as write it, and he hopes it’ll be his break into photojournalism. But however good he is behind the camera, Dan is useless when it comes to steering a boat – especially when he’s distracted by a gorgeous tattooed hunk on another barge. Dan manages to steer his boat straight into the hunk’s barge ( 😆 ). Understandably, the hunk is furious and after scolding Dan for his carelessness, sends him on his way. But Dan’s woes don’t end there, as he then beaches his boat on a shelf in the river. The next person to come along and help him is, of course, the bad-tempered hunk.
Dan tries to make amends, and the hunk – Robin – grudgingly allows a conversation. Robin’s friend, Melody, is much more amenable, and when Dan asks about a pub for lunch, she directs him to a place nearby. Dan is surprised by the pub landlord’s dislike of the narrowboat community, and his interest is further piqued when he sees Robin and the landlord in an argument. Robin has lost his beloved cat, Morris, and wants to put up information posters. The landlord refuses, accusing the narrowboaters of being thieves and ‘gyppos’.
Dan sees the potential for a story about the lives of the narrowboaters, and as Robin is still acting disinterested, Dan turns to Melody. She introduces him to members of the community, and soon Dan has learned a lot about the lifestyle. Many of the narrowboaters are social outcasts, but some are from well-off backgrounds. One of the things that intrigues Dan about Robin is that Robin has so many tattoos and piercings, looks rough and ready, yet he has a posh accent. He’s also fairly certain that Robin is gay and interested in him, though Robin claims to be bisexual at first. Dan follows him to a gay bar one evening and is in time to rescue Robin from the clutches of a rather fruity older man.
Robin hasn’t had a serious relationship in four years, ever since the big mistake of his life, Jamie. What happened in that relationship destroyed Robin’s confidence and broke him emotionally, and though his parents sent him to a therapist to help overcome his depression, it’s been the freedom of the narrowboat life that’s helped Robin put himself back together. He’s attracted to Dan, but he fears getting into something he can’t handle, and what’s worse is that Dan is a self-confessed player. Dan isn’t looking for more than a quick shag, and Robin isn’t sure what he wants. But when Dan rescues Robin’s cat, Morris, Robin begins to thaw towards him, and once he realises that Dan has a genuine interest in the narrowboat community and isn’t out to exploit them like so many ‘tourists’ (non-community boaters), they become closer and finally become lovers.
But of course the path of love never runs smooth, even on water, and the differences in their lifestyle present a major hurdle. Robin has huge trust issues, and Dan’s freewheeling London lifestyle is totally at odds with the quiet backwater existence Robin has built for himself. It takes a shocking event to make the two men realise the depth of their feelings for one another, but even so, they still have to navigate tricky undertows and dangerous currents before they can reach their happy ending.
When Wave suggested Barging In for review, I was looking forward to it as one of my friends, a Home Economics teacher, has spent the last few years living on a narrowboat. Though she says it’s a hard life and not for everyone, she wouldn’t swap it for anything. And that’s very much the sense you get when you read this book – narrowboaters are fiercely independent and very protective of their community, are often maligned by ‘normal’ society and are accused of being outsiders. The comparison between the gay community and the narrowboaters is hard to miss, but it’s never overplayed and Dan – as the openly gay outsider coming into the community – provides a pleasing contrast as well as serving as a guide to narrowboaters for the uninitiated.
I’ve enjoyed a number of the author’s short stories, but a novel is a different kettle of fish. However, there’s no need to worry, because Myles pulls it off with panache, giving us a whole host of memorable characters to get to know. I loved Dan and his unrepentant attitude, and I really felt for Robin, whose past casts such a long shadow. My other favourite character is Rosemary, Robin’s mum. Another theme in the book is that of family, both the family you create for yourself with friends and lovers, as well as the family you’re born into. Robin has struggled with accepting himself because of his schooling and because of what happened with Jamie, and as a consequence he struggles in his relationship with his parents. Rosemary tries so very hard to be supportive of her son, and even though she doesn’t always understand him, it’s clear that she loves him, and it takes Dan’s entrance into Robin’s life to make Robin realise what he’s been ignoring for so long.
In the author bio at the end of the book, I noticed that Josephine Myles lived on a narrowboat for two years. Her experience of the lifestyle comes across on every page, and is never sugar-coated, just presented as it is. The supporting characters, such as Melody and Smiler, as well as those who only get a brief mention, are all lifelike and full of quirks and passions.
Readers who enjoy non-US settings will find this book delightful. It’s stuffed to the gills with Britishness and gives a good flavour of our attitudes and of course, our lovely slang 😆 Quirky from the start, the book is funny in a deadpan way and there’s plenty of situational humour too, though the comedic aspect never overwhelms the romance or the drama of the unfolding relationship.
The only niggle I had – and this may not be a problem for other readers – is that I felt the last third or so of the story lost some of its tension. Robin’s past is revealed partway through, and though I completely agree that it makes sense to have him tell Dan about it there because of what’s just happened (the shocking event I mentioned earlier), that particular event and the revelation were the high points of the book for me, and though Dan and Robin still had issues to work through afterwards, none of it could match the drama of the revelation and what preceded it. So I was less invested in the end of the book. However, as I said, other readers might not feel the same and though it put a tiny dent in my overall enjoyment, this is still a book I’d very much recommend.