The Way From Here by Jane Turner – a strong novel of female friendship and choices

The Way From Here by Jane Turner

Friendship, rowing and the choices made by women over fifty make this a novel that literally had me cheering. While the focus may be on Kate, who when her youngest child goes to university discovers that her empty home, her distant husband and her boring part time job is simply not enough, there are also other women’s situations to discover. In this novel rowing is the thing that draws a disparate group together, and I certainly learnt a lot about the actual challenges of the sport, the way that everything has to be done together, and the camaraderie of rowing in a team of eight. In this novel Kate is drawn to rowing,but discovers that even though she is committed and a powerful rower, her age and later her gender plays against her. This is the sort of novel that could well make the basis of an exciting film, as each character, however minor, is well drawn and the challenges worthwhile. It is primarily a novel of female friendship, sometimes against the odds, and the simple message that it is never too late to come together and make a difference. 

From those stuck in difficult relationships, to those for whom the physical side of rowing is huge, this is a novel of women finding a new challenge in their lives, and the strength of purpose to enjoy the social life and the actual rowing together. More than one woman is inspired to look at their situation anew, and yet this is not just a triumphant comfort novel – some difficulties cannot be easily solved, and all the women really have to work for what they want to achieve. I really enjoyed this novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

Kate is taking her daughter to Durham University when she catches sight of a crew of women rowing. She realises that she made a decision to sacrifice her promising legal career following studying at Cambridge and learning to row there to bring up their children while her husband worked in London during the week. Her part time job had worked well when the girls were small, but now “She recalled the daily litany of trivial slights…They had a name for it now: micro agressions”. Her husband is distant even when he returns home at the weekend, so she draws up her courage to venture to the local rowing club. From the first moment she knows that she is not what the young women in the Senior Women’s crew expected, and though she shows some ability she is never going to be truly accepted. Fortunately she makes a friend in Beth, who is also unhappy about the lack of opportunities for older women in the club. As their friendship deepens, they decide to do something about it, and draft in other women who want to row even if they feel their individual situations may not be immediately conducive to it. Some of the women discover that rowing and coming together with other women gives them a new purpose and throws everything into the challenge of making a memorable team.  

This is a well written novel that had me empathising with the main characters and enjoying it immensely. There is a lot of research into the technical side of rowing, the feeling of absolute physical exhaustion and the impetus to find just a little more to finish a course. Yet the writing never slows, the research never interrupts the narrative, and the emotions surrounding the rowing are given their space. I would recommend this book not only to women of a similar age to the protagonists, but also those who want a novel of deep, positive female friendship.