‘Flares Up: A Story Bigger than the Atlantic’ by Niamh McAnally

Flares Up is the story of two ordinary men, Paul Hopkins and Phil Pugh, taking on an extreme challenge to row across the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

The story in itself is fascinating – the logistics, the danger, the physical toil it put on both men who were 55 and 65 respectively. But this book is about much more than that. Niamh McAnally met both men just as they finished the challenge and had the foresight to quickly realize that the real story wasn’t what they did but why they did it. Flares Up is a searingly honest examination of this question.

The first half of the book interweaves the build up to the race with the backstory of both Phil and Paul. Through exploring their families, their marriages, their health issues, McAnally seeks to unravel their motivation for undertaking the challenge. As she says in the book, she looks not just for the why they tell others, or even the why they tell themselves, but the real why, the internal, instinctive reasons that propelled them into a tiny boat in the middle of the Atlantic.

The second half of the book recounts the race in the perfect level of detail. Mixed in with insight into the physical challenges and the breathtaking scenery is a heartfelt and at times heartbreaking reflection on the emotional challenge Phil and Paul faced both during, and because of, the journey – due to both the isolation and messages from home.

As an account of an interesting challenge undertaken by two relatively ordinary men this is a very good book, but as an examination of life it is a special one. The honesty of the book results in it being an incredibly gripping reflection on fatherhood, on marriage, on motivation and on passion. On who we chose to spend our time with and why we chose to do so. I can’t recommend this highly enough for anyone looking for a gripping, moving, exciting read.

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