Blood Over Water painfully conveys how all-consuming the Boat Race is, vividly associating one's victory with another's inherent disaster
It is the Boat Race this Saturday, and I'll lay my cards out on the table now: dark blues all the way! But reading Blood Over Water, the story of two brothers rowing against one another in the 2003 contest, made my passion waver and even a little more ambivalent.
For what the jointly-authored book does is painfully convey how all-consuming the race is, both in the training and in the emotional strain, and it vividly associates triumph with desolation, one's victory with another's inherent disaster.
This would not be an ordinary object of my bookshelves but one of its authors, David Livingston, who was on the Oxford team (his brother James was one of the Tabs), is a wealth manager for Thurleigh Investment Management, a Spear's Award-winning firm. See – wealth managers do have lives!
Blood Over Water bracingly brings to life the fibre-tearing, muscle-rending exertions of the race without many of the usual clichés: it is, in fact, an exciting and originally-told narrative.
But more than that, it is also painfully real about the conflict between the brothers, and since it is in a diary form, we see their fraternal thoughts with harsh honesty: at some points they wonder whether they can ever have a proper relationship again after making each other their chief enemy. How they get to this stage, and how this feeling insinuates itself around their bones, is almost upsetting.
The description of the race itself cuts between the two accounts, the form almost filmic, perfect for tension. I was there for that race – it was my first year at Magdalen and most of my college seemed to be there – but at such a remove, physically and emotionally, from the race that the outcome was an issue of generalised Varsity pride. To read Blood Over Water is to repent of those feelings and to understand that the Boat Race is not about Pimm's or pride but personal trial – and personal sacrifice.