Book review – Casting Off by Emma Bamford

Casting Off coverWhen Emma Bamford gets frustrated with her life as London journalist, she answers an advert to live with a man and his cat on a boat in Borneo.

It’s a hell of a premise, and all the more so considering that it’s entirely true. What follows is part travelogue, part coming of age story, taking place on three very different vessels with three very different crews. The book is divided into three sections named for the three boats she takes residence aboard, but actually flagging up different stages of her personal development as she gradually sets aside her more damaging traits, such as a worrying compulsion to please others, and her reliance on planning and certainty.

Perhaps inevitably, I found myself comparing Casting off with Lucy Irvine‘s travel memoir Castaway, but while the pair undoubtedly share an adventurous spirit, the adventures themselves turn out very different.

Emma, while on the surface a romantic, is essentially a pragmatic soul with a clear knowledge of her own fallibilities as well as her hopes and goals.

We can’t all run off to sea and become happy mariners, but through Emma’s candid anecdotes, you can get a sense of the courage and stamina required. It may sound strange, but I found her character development as compelling as a fictional protagonist’s, as she gained confidence in her own decisions, stopped sleeping with her captains simply because it was the easier option (ok, she only does this with one captain, but the excuses she comes up with for this lapse reveal how embarrassed she is by the situation), and gained increasing clarity about her own life-goals in the ongoing search for purpose and happiness.

Through her eyes you’ll get to experience the serenity and suspense of night watches, the humour of occasional animal visitors, and the drudgery of waiting on wealthy holidaymakers.

Oh yes, and there’s a love story too, but for me this was merely part of the background, far less interesting that Emma’s growing knowledge of herself.

Along the way she overcomes her fear of sea swimming, encounters packs of wild dogs (not easy when you have a dog phobia), makes a few unwise decisions regarding her love life, survives sailing across pirate-infested waters (sorry for the spoiler, but, um, how would the book exist if she hadn’t), and offers up lots of wry chuckles, often at her own expense.

Oh, and finally, too late for my own Bornean adventures, Emma taught me how to pronounce “thank you” in Malay – “tearup ma kasee.

Tearup ma kasee, Emma, it’s been a fun, inspiring and thought-provoking a voyage. Tearup ma kasee and good luck!

Casting off by Emma Bamford is published by Bloomsbury and is available to buy from Amazon.

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