The Bookshop That Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw
Review copy provided by publisher
Allen & Unwin, July 2014
Synopsis- In early 2009 a strange sort of business plan landed on the desk of a pinstriped bank manager. It had pictures of rats and moles in rowing boats and archaic quotes about Cleopatra’s barge. It asked for a GBP30,000 loan to buy a black-and-cream narrowboat and a small hoard of books. The manager said no. Nevertheless The Book Barge opened six months later and enjoyed the happy patronage of local readers, a growing number of eccentrics and the odd moorhen. Business wasn’t always easy, so one May morning owner Sarah Henshaw set off for six months chugging the length and breadth of the country. Books were bartered for food, accommodation, bathroom facilities and cake. During the journey, the barge suffered a flooded engine, went out to sea, got banned from Bristol and, on several occasions, floated away altogether. This account follows the ebbs and flows of Sarah’s journey as she sought to make her vision of a floating bookshop a reality.
Review- In 2009, Sarah Henshaw proposed a business plan for a loan application… and was denied. What could go wrong with $30,000, a narrow canal boat and a floating bookshop? Well a lot did once she roped in the money and set out to sail along Britain’s rivers.
I’m a pretty big fan of the travel memoir genre and when I discovered this book captured two of my passions-travel and books- into one slim novel I couldn’t resist requesting a copy from the publisher. While it wasn’t your typical travel memoir, I mean England’s canals generally aren’t the adventure travel that you expect in these books, but it did have some similarities that I enjoyed. I actually really admired Sarah’s passion for her business venture as it’s such a cool idea. Even when faced with many challenges to get her business up and started she still persevered. To take on a floating bookshop without any boating experience is a pretty big deal and I thought Sarah was quite brave to do this solo.
Sarah has to learn the ropes of the canals and boating etiquette very quickly as she encounters expert boaters, those that thought they were experts and those that sound downright mad. On her travels she barters books for food, accommodation and a warm shower… something I also admired about her. There’s no way I could cope with relying on strangers to meet my basic needs. Especially since it’s so darned cold in the UK! Social media was probably her saving grace in this respect and quite a clever way of making connections with people that she could benefit from.
Okay, so this story didn’t completely blow me away, it was rather slow in parts of the book and was really a compilation of excerpts that denote her travels. It was a journey focussed story which means the reader doesn’t get to meet secondary characters that last the lengths of the book, but to be fair, she did warn us upfront:
“This story is about a journey where I swap books for food or a bathroom or a bed. As such, it’s a series of very short, quite intense relationships with people I never get back together with. Much like a very long Taylor Swift Album”
I think I enjoyed the last third of the book more than any other part and that’s probably because it’s the point in the novel when Sarah starts to share more of herself and the emotional struggles she was faced with on her trip. I didn’t love this book as I’d hoped, but I did find her story fascinating and at least I can cross off Own a book barge from my bucket list because it all just seems too hard! No doubt Sarah has the passion and determination to see the business succeed. An interesting read if you’re after a travel/ business memoir with a little twist 🙂
“It was okay”
The Bookshop That Floated Away can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers