ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – Maurice and Maralyn by Sophie Elmhirst

Maurice and Maralyn by Sophie Elmhirst will be published by Chatto & Windus on 29th February 2024 in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. My thanks to the publishers for the proof copy.

What begins as an eccentric English love story turns into one of the most dramatic adventures ever recorded…

Maurice and Maralyn couldn’t be more different. He is as cautious and awkward as she is charismatic and forceful. It seems an unlikely romance, but it works.

Bored of 1970s suburban life, Maralyn has an idea: sell the house, build a boat, leave England — and its oil crisis, industrial strikes and inflation — forever. It is hard work, turning dreams into reality, but finally they set sail for New Zealand. Then, halfway there, their beloved boat is struck by a whale and the pair are cast adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

On their tiny raft, their love is put to the test. When Maurice begins to withdraw into himself, it falls upon Maralyn to keep them both alive. Filled with danger, spirit, and tenderness, this is a book about human connection and the human condition; about how we survive — not just at sea, but in life.

Maurice and Maralyn is based on a true story, one of courage, fortitude and love. The couple met and married in the 1960s and embarked on life together in Derby. However, not content with domesticity and the day to day grind of daily life, they decided to sell their bungalow and build a boat, one that would sail them across oceans. Several years later they are ready to set sail and they have a merry time until a whale strikes the boat and it sinks, leaving them to bob around the Pacific on just a life raft and a dinghy.

This is an incredible and almost unbelievable story of survival. Knowing it all really happened just makes it even more shocking and it proves just how much the human body can endure. The vast wide open space of the ocean made me shudder to think about it and I can barely come close to imagining what four months of it must have felt like. Maurice and Maralyn had very different personalities, him quite cautious and often tending towards pessimism, with Maralyn being optimistic to the point of sometimes seeming unrealistic. Although opposites in many ways, they also complemented each other and it’s this that made them strong enough to survive their ordeal.

Sophie Elmhirst’s story is a memorable one and is beautifully written. Whilst the recounting of details gives it a matter-of-fact feel, it has been fictionalised in such a way that it also drew me in completely as any good novel should. I found it such a compelling and extraordinary story of a brave couple’s life before, during and after their astonishing voyage. It moved me, it surprised me and it enthralled me. It’s such a swell (forgive the pun) book.

Sophie Elmhirst is a prizewinning writer for the Guardian Long Read and The Economist’s 1843 magazine, and a contributing editor at the Gentlewoman and Harper’s Bazaar. In 2020 she won the British Press Award for Feature Writer of the Year; she has also won a Foreign Press Award and been longlisted for the Orwell Prize. She first came across the story of Maurice and Maralyn Bailey researching a piece on our desire to escape. This is her first book. She lives in London.

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