The Crossing by Andrew Miller

the crossingPassionless…

😦 😦

Maud and Tim are an unlikely couple – he gregarious and open, she lacking any kind of personality whatsoever, of any kind, and apparently unable to speak in sentences longer than four words, despite her intelligence. However, he falls in love with her and she… well, acquiesces is the word that springs to mind. They have a good deal of fairly passionless yet intimately described sex which, thankfully, results at last in a pregnancy. I say thankfully because the exhaustion brought on by the child stops them having more sex for a while. But after a few years of living together, during which Maud’s contribution to the household conversation gradually adds up to roughly twenty words, tragedy strikes! No, sadly not Maud. She survives – proving yet again that there is no justice in this world. Unable to express her emotions, assuming she has any, Maud takes off in her beloved boat where she can sail and sail and sail without having to speak to anyone at all. Fortunately she manages to have a last bout of sex just before weighing anchor, just in case any reader was missing it…

Oh dear! Sometimes a book and a reader just don’t gel and I fear that’s the case with this reader and this book. And yet I feel I’m probably being unfair. It reminded me in many ways of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, only much better written I hasten to add, and while I thought that book was pretty awful, 99% of the rest of the universe seemed to think it was wonderful. Basically it’s a coming to terms with grief story but with a central character with so little personality that I couldn’t feel any empathy for her. Perhaps we’re supposed to assume that inside she’s a seething cauldron of suppressed emotion, but if so it’s too well suppressed. Or perhaps she’s supposed to be autistic. I don’t know – but she behaves like a speech-free automaton for the whole book, forming no real relationships with any of the other characters, though of course all the men she meets are attracted to her, for no reason I could understand.

Wishful thinking...
Wishful thinking…

The first half is taken up with her one-sided relationship with Tim, who seems to think she’s vulnerable and that he needs to take care of her. But in fact, she’s so self-sufficient that the rest of the world doesn’t really impinge on her at all. When their child is born, Maud returns to work leaving Tim to be the child-carer. After a failed attempt to get the baby to enjoy sailing, Maud begins to leave Tim and the child at home at weekends while she goes off alone in her beloved boat.

The tragedy happens about halfway through and from there on the book tells us of Maud’s attempt to deal with her (presumed) grief by taking to the seas on a solo sailing trip. I hoped that might be more interesting but sadly Maud’s lack of emotion now becomes coupled with endless, tediously over-detailed descriptions of how to sail a boat, using a bunch of nautical terminology that meant most of it created no images in my mind…

She shackles the tack to the base of the spare stay then hanks on until she reaches the head. Every thirty seconds the sea sweeps over her legs. Water forces itself up the inside of her salopettes, forces itself under her jacket, down the back of her salopettes. She crawls to the mast, drops the remains of the mainsail, binds it with bungees, then bangs her shoulders against the mast while she finds a halyard for the storm jib. She uncleats the halyard, slithers back to the jib, undoes the halyard shackle with the marlinspike she once gave to Tim as a present but which later, somehow, became her marlinspike, attaches the head of the jib, frees the sheets from the furling jib, reties the bowlins through the clew of the storm jib, hoists the jib from the mast, regains the cockpit, sheets in the jib, cleats it, and sits on the grid of the cockpit sole, her chest heaving, her clothes soaked through.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller

Perhaps people who sail will find this kind of description riveting, but I’m afraid I found it about as thrilling as the instructions on a piece of Ikea do-it-yourself furniture, and even less comprehensible. By the two-thirds stage I was skimming pages, hoping desperately to get to the end.

And then the ending brings the same kind of semi-mystical mumbo-jumbo that nauseated me so much in Harold Fry. Miller avoids the sickly sweetness of that book, but unfortunately also avoids either credibility or emotional warmth. So, highly recommended to people who love Harold Fry, sailing terminology and silent automatons, but for everyone else… not so much.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Hodder & Stoughton.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

52 thoughts on “The Crossing by Andrew Miller

  1. Gosh, this sounds fairly dreadful. How could anyone care about such a dull lady as Maud? Maybe she is a badly-written introvert, in which case Miller needs a sound spanking. I felt like bumping her off half way through your review, let alone the actual book. But a question – are 2 sad faces better or worse than 1 sad face on your complex reviewing scale?

  2. Goodness, this sounds awfully boring. I think Maud lost me as a character I could empathize with when I read about the sole sailing trips leaving her husband and child at home.

    • Yes, I found it incredibly dull, I’m afraid – and she was impossible to empathise with. I think we were supposed to assume she did love them really, but she gave no sign of it. Seemed completely self-centred…

  3. Oh, my, FictionFan! What a story!! I haven’t even read it and already I’m feeling completely put off. It just goes to show that if the protagonist isn’t appealing or interesting, the story won’t be. Well, there is one wonderful thing about this one; it doesn’t threaten my TBR… 😉

    • Haha! Yep, I wouldn’t be trying to push this onto anyone’s TBR, I’m afraid. Pity – I loved his last book, Pure, but all the sailing jargon in this one combined with a protagonist I couldn’t care about made for a fairly tedious read…

  4. So, highly recommended to people who love Harold Fry, sailing terminology and silent automatons

    . . . and intimately described sex. Let’s not forget that bit.

  5. I hate to say it but I’m glad this book didn’t meet your requirements for a solid good read, it is a long while since I’ve had such a good chuckle over one of your reviews! I already had doubts having struggled with others by this author but now you have sealed its fate – it won’t be being added to my overflowing shelves.

    • Haha! I know – I’ve been reading an awful lot of good books recently, it’s very unfair of me! 😉 I’ve only read one other of his books – Pure – and I enjoyed it a lot, but this one was just tedious. I only stuck with it to see if it would get better. It didn’t!

  6. Maybe Tim insisted on commenting on the last evening’s baseball scores and how they could have done better. I can see that happening easily. In fact, I have had days where, if I had a boat, I’d be off into the wild blue. And I’d do it without leaving an explanation. I’m firm believer in never explaining anything. The trouble always begins when you explain things.

    To compensate for the pain that the book incurs I will give you a free copy of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. Happy reading. 😉

    • Haha! Poor man! I almost felt sorry for him – but since I couldn’t see why he was attracted to her in the first place, I kinda felt it was his own fault. I bet he was quite glad she spent all her time on the boat!

      Noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!! One book I know for sure will never end up on my TBR!! 😉

  7. Well, at least you can cross this one off your TBR, right?? This one sounds BORING, and I won’t be reading it, thanks to your as-always excellent review. I’m not into sailing, and I find it next to impossible to follow a character with no more personality than a robot!

    • And no need to add his next book when it comes along either! It was incredibly boring, which was a pity, since I enjoyed his last book, Pure, a lot, and had been waiting for him to produce another. But it was impossible to empathise with Maud since she didn’t seem to have any personailty to speak of at all…

  8. I did love Harold almost despite myself and then went on to love Queenie even more, what does that say about me, but think I’m going to give this one a wide berth. It’s going onto the “life’s too short” list…

    • Most people did but I honestly could never see why – I found it nauseatingly saccharin. Just shows two people can read the same book and get entirely different things from it. Which is why I feel I might be being unfair to this one – he’s a good writer, but this time Maud’s lack of personality and all the sailing jargon were just too much for me – or maybe too little…

      • Did you not read the Queenie one then? not urging you to do so, because might not be for you at all, but the tone is very different and would have been interested by your thoughts on it. I also read “Perfect” by RJ and didn’t get on with that one at all…

        • I’m afraid I disliked Harold so much, I couldn’t bring myself to read Queenie. Haha! After I reviewed Harold Fry negatively on Amazon – a very short and quite restrained review I may add – I spent the next few months fielding hate comments from ardent fans – that may have helped contribute to my aversion. Amazon is such a strange place! 😉 It was really the ending that put me off Harold Fry – I hate all that quasi-religious stuff, which this book did too. If an author wants to go down a spiritual route, I wish they’d stick to a recognised religious path instead of mixing it up with a sort of supernatural taradiddle ending… but then I’m a cynical old so-and-so at the best of times!

  9. Oh well done. I need no longer wonder if I MIGHT be missing something. Miller can be amazing – I know we both raved about Pure, but I heard him talking about this and he or someone else read and extract on Front Row, so the ‘I will get an ARC of this, by hook or by crook’ desire vanished within seconds. And you have kept all desire to embark on this firmly at bay. Harold Fry – UGH (another we agreed on. And what a splendidly chosen extract too, well done, no desire to read more.

    Come on Mr Miller, get back to your quirky historical roots, you write so much more engagingly once set in the past.

    I must go and change out of my salopettes into a nice frilly frock, if only I could untie my bowlines…………

    • I feel bad about it, since this was one I actually begged from the publisher. I was sure I’d enjoy it because I enjoyed Pure so much, but it’s hard to believe this was written by the same person to be honest. The quote is of course deliberately chosen as the worst example but honestly there was tons of all that sailing lingo – and I was sooooo bored. I kept hoping for sharks or barracudas, or that she’d get caught up in a tornado and whisked off to Kansas…

      Ha! I even had to google salopettes! I don’t think I’m cut out for life on the ocean wave…

    • Thank you! *curtseys* They are, but could be improved by being even flatter – say, by having a rock dropped on them. I’d like to see him try…

      Sadly not! It’d have got 5 stars if she had…

        • *ashamed face* I know, but that’s what being forced to read 300 pages of Maud does to a person! Tchah! The shark would have his fat head bit off before BL had managed to oil his biceps…

          Totally! You should have sunk her boat half-way across!

            • But he couldn’t possibly stay afloat long enough to do that! He’d sink like… like… like a great big fat thing!!

              Yes, it’s Maud Something-or-Other. Does that help? Why do you ask?

  10. Oh dear! Andrew Miller – when will he stop toying with me? I loved Ingenious Pain, then waited & waited for him to reach those heights again. I’m hopeful because I still have Pure to read, but it looks like this novel is not him at his best.

    • I haven’t read Ingenious Pain, but I enjoyed Pure very much – a much better novel than this one. I don’t really know what he was trying to do with this one, but if it was to show that people with no personailty can be interesting, he failed!! 😉

  11. Too much information about character’s sex lives makes me cringe. I don’t much like the sound of marlinspikes, bowlins or halyards either! Your review made me laugh though, so that is worth five happy faces!

    • Haha! These bad books bring out my wicked side, I fear! Yeah, I could live without detailed descriptions of sex too – how did the likes of Dickens and Austen mange to write timeless classics without discussing bodily fluids? It’s a mystery… 😉

    • Yes, it was the idea of the sailing that attracted me too, and I could have coped with a reasonable amount of sailing terminology, but this was just dreadful! And no clue as to what it all meant for those of us who don’t sail…

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