"Love isn't always plain sailing" although in "Going Dutch" it's not sailing but motoring in a barge that underpins the story. Jo has recently separated from her husband Philip after he took up with a much younger woman and is renting a barge as accommodation while she works out what to do with her life. She's had no job apart from bringing up her daughter Karen, now living in Canada, and can't face being with the people in her village and seeing her husband's younger, thinner girlfriend.
Dora has just broken off her engagement to John, her boyfriend of four years, and at twenty two isn't sure what to do next - although she is sure she can't live at home and deal with all the recriminations and village talk. So when her best friend Karen suggests she lodges on the barge with Jo this seems like a great opportunity. Perhaps Dora can find a job in London and pick up the threads of a new life.
Jo and Dora get along very well and are soon making friends and getting involved with other people who live on other barges. Dora meets Tom, a young man who works at the boatyard but wants to go travelling. Theirs is just a friendship, of course, but Tom's doing his best to help Dora grow in confidence and do new things and perhaps she's finding his friendship more important to her than she had thought. Jo meets up with Marcus, someone she knew thirty years before whilst she was engaged to Philip, and when they discover that the barge needs to go to Holland for some maintenance the barge owner hires Marcus to skipper it across the channel. Marcus's girlfriend comes along for the ride but is there something more going on between Marcus and Jo than she is aware of?
Going Dutch is Katie Fforde's thirteenth novel and is very like her others in tone and feel. It's a comfortable, cosy read with lots of quintessential Englishness (people always drinking tea) and some very interesting descriptions of life on a barge - both stationary and travelling. However in some ways this book was a little disappointing; it took rather a long time to get going and although the section about crossing to Holland is interesting the main characters seem to spend more time making cups of tea than anything else. Some characters seem rather one-dimensional, particularly Carole, Marcus's girlfriend, and Susanna, the new girlfriend of Jo's husband. There is a strange emphasis on the fact that Jo and Dora are middle class although they speak and behave in a rather more upper-class fashion and the regular reference to their class didn't seem to fit. Jo, for example, after an hour's conversation with an expert, is able to restore antiques well enough to make a living out of it; Dora gets a day at the races courtesy of her father - these don't seem like usual English middle class pursuits to me.
The boating aspect of the story gave it a lot of charm but also sometimes meant that the story dragged. The actual romance part of the book seemed tacked on at the end, particularly for Jo, with no real exploration as to whether she would be happy with Marcus. Tom and Dora's instant friendship is understandable on her side (she's lonely for company her age) but not entirely on his - it's not clear what he sees in her initially. There is rather a lack of realism in many of the events - Jo's antique restoration, as mentioned before, and Dora's ability to get a job instantly in the boatyard without even being interviewed.
It's an easy book to read and the characters are appealing, particularly Jo as she comes to terms with being in her fifties and single again, but the book drags a little in places and the relationships between the women and their men aren't well enough developed to please this picky reviewer.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Helen Hancox, 2007