Tthe title of the book contains a double-entendre. First, the writer discusses the nature of canals – the botanical, zoological and geological aspects, and the history of their building and uses. This nature is largely hidden from view – hidden from those who don’t venture on to the towpath or indeed on to the water (as the writer does). Ms Fowler evokes this nature enthusiastically and in detail – in a blend of objectivity and subjectivity. She conveys the impact upon her that both the wildlife and the detritus of industry and our throwaway society create.
Secondly, the accounts of her exploration of the canals of the West Midlands (and London too, a bit) are blended with her personal history – her midlife crisis, indeed. (Well, she is in her late thirties.) The canal trips provide a way for the writer to re-assess her life and to make life-changing decisions. (She is a gardener who temporarily abandons her garden.)
In brief, Ms Fowler changes partners. She is torn, about this. Her re-orientation takes time and trouble and involves painful feelings. But she sticks to her decision, once made, and accepts the implications and costs.
Ms Fowler writes about sexuality but not sex. She writes about herself rather than about her partners – they remain somewhat shadowy, little described. (This preserves a degree of privacy for them.) Her account is openly subjective. The “significant others” would have said something different (of course).
This book is not for everyone. (I like it.) Not all will enjoy the canal and nature descriptions. Not all will accompany the writer on her emotional journey sympathetically. Some may not go along with her decision to leave one partner and to take up with another.
Worth a look. Thought-provoking.
Did I mention that Alys leaves her husband for a woman? No!?
From what I can gather, Alys is not alone in her transition from a relationship with a man to one with a woman. And the writer is at some pains to say that the former relationship was genuine and fond – implying that it was the right thing at the time (at its time).
I guess we don’t yet know much about what has been termed “sexual fluidity”.