Two In A Boat: A Marital Voyage by Gwyneth Lewis

Seafaring tale of a marriage heading towards the rocks
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The Independent Culture

Would you sail across the Atlantic with a sixtysomething recovering alcoholic and a barely recovered depressive? The poet Gwyneth Lewis, only recently off Prozac, decides this is just the cure she needs. She and her husband Leighton pen their letters of resignation, rent out their house and set off across the open seas with barely a backward glance.

Would you sail across the Atlantic with a sixtysomething recovering alcoholic and a barely recovered depressive? The poet Gwyneth Lewis, only recently off Prozac, decides this is just the cure she needs. She and her husband Leighton pen their letters of resignation, rent out their house and set off across the open seas with barely a backward glance.

They do their evening classes and Gwyneth passes her theory easily, but then discovers she suffers from unremitting seasickness. Leighton makes his own self-discovery: he is an über-skipper and if anything goes wrong, it's someone else's fault. As his wife is the only other person on board, the marriage is soon as wobbly as the waves.

Lewis takes us through each stage: practice in the Bristol Channel, test run over to Ireland, false starts out of Milford Haven. Losing their nerve at the prospect of setting off for Northern Spain, they decide to hop over to Brittany. From there they leapfrog round France, across the treacherous Bay of Biscay - and then the engine stops working. Two winter months trapped in a filthy port north of Lisbon mean that by the time they make it to Gibraltar, Leighton has proposed divorce and Gwyneth has cried a lot.

At this point, you begin to wonder why on earth these two are still doggedly preparing for the big voyage across the Atlantic. But fate intervenes, and I won't spoil the one surprise of the book. So you have to ask: was their marriage ever on an even keel; was their emotional luggage stowed away Bristol-fashion; and, most importantly, was there another depression rolling in from the west? No, not my own crass metaphors but a taste of the laboriously repeated analogies in this book. Everything is bolstered with a quotation from a seafaring manual or a caption in a maritime museum. Each gem of nautical wisdom is then pressganged (yes, it's catching) into service to describe their marriage, their unhappiness, their inability to co-ordinate.

It might not matter if each leg of the journey brought insight into the characters. But Leighton turns into "Captain Bastard" before they have even left the Bristol Channel and doesn't change until the final pages, while Gwyneth's level of maritime incompetence remains more or less static. While I can see that the pitch sounded good in the publisher's office ("Welsh poet describes voyage through marriage while making voyage across Atlantic"), such a lack of real narrative arc left this reader in the doldrums.



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