Today we’re showing off two rowing books which are worth adding to your summer holiday reading list.
Both novels and written by authors who actually understand the sport, they give very different perspectives on that most difficult of rowing situations – the crew bonding before, during and after an important race. Buy Water under the Bridge from Rowperfect [Sold Out]
Flat Water Tuesday by Ron Irwin
Written as a serious novel, Irwin has achieved a really good story written around rowing. There are many novels where rowing plays a small part and it’s generally mis-represented or full of mistakes in phraseology. This is the book to restore your faith in the craft of good writing.
Irwin sets out to show what happens when a working class lad gets a scholarship to an exclusive private school in the USA based on his sculling ability. When he gets there he finds that he’s been given this chance so the school rowing four can revenge its boat race defeat by rivals Warwick School. But he doesn’t like crew boats and can’t sweep.
The story develops around themes of youthful ebullience, experiments with love, alcohol, rites of passage [the Society of Glowing Golf Balls] and personal endeavour as it flips backwards and forwards in time while the narrator prepares to return to the school for a reunion.
My favourite quotes are
“There was something satanic about every good coxswain.”
“Rowing is a pastime for people who enjoy winning at all costs.”
“The luster of victory wears off quickly.”
Being a pedant, I could find only a couple of tiny errors in fact – a three second margin in a race is not half a length – it’s 1 length for an 8 and over 1 length for a coxed four. And on page 253 the cox calls “Wyne-up” Which I think is what weigh-enough or ‘easy oars’ for Britons… . Bad error.
The climax and conclusion of the book is gripping and lets you realise too late the building inevitability as you remember incidents from earlier passages. The athletes sit around drinking and are beautifully characterised as the narrator realises that his rowing days are ending but another will spend his life forever driving to win future races in life.
“And each triumph for him, I knew, would mean less and less, until that day when he stood alone with his laurels, all the cheering and applause forever silenced by an adulthood which was closing in upon him; the searching, relentless bow of a boat he could never leave in the golden wake of his glorious youth.”
Buy the book on Amazon or from booksellers. Ron Irwin’s website
Water under the Bridge by Simon Murch
A comedic contrasting novel by another retired oarsman who looks back onto his youthful rowing with the urge to recreate success with his former crew mates in new veteran race at Henley Royal Regatta.
Murch writes from the heart and with bursts of genuinely funny observation on the human condition – particularly the middle aged man looking back on his youth and his inability to understand his children’s language. Morley, the main character, decides to return to rowing as a veteran and his first outings are brilliantly portrayed – wait till you read the description of oxygen-debt as an “unprincipled, underworld enforcer” and a moment of disappointment described as “Just fuck off. And stay fucked off.” We’ve all been there.
“Helen has not been dismayed to see Morley develop another mid-life obsession. At least it was better than a mistress.”
“Winter training… the rower’s linguistic Swiss Army knife, ‘fuck’ covering well enough the full range of emotions evoked by this sport.”
Marlow Regatta is scene to a brillant convergence of Bill Oddy-twitchers with tweed-suited regatta officials and ends with shots fired, and a breakfast TV appearance.
You will love the final build up to the grudge match against the cheating opposition whose Henley Steward crew member does all he can to ensure our heros fail to quality [been there too]. Caricatured characters lead the plot forward and gave me many laugh-out-loud moments of pleasure as I read.
Plus, I really like the motto on the back cover Remigo Ergo Sum.