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Paperback Offshore Book

ISBN: 0395478049

ISBN13: 9780395478042


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Format: Paperback

Condition: Good

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Book Overview

On the Battersea Reach of the Thames, a mixed bag of eccentrics live in houseboats. Belonging to neither land nor sea, they belong to one another. There is Maurice, a homosexual prostitute; Richard, a buttoned-up ex-navy man; but most of all there's Nenna, the struggling mother of two wild little girls. How each of their lives complicates the others is the stuff of this perfect little novel.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

On the Margins

Fitzgerald's cast of characters in this Booker Prize novella are a motley group of people living in converted barges and small craft moored by the banks of the Thames, rising with the tide then sinking back into the mud. Their self-appointed chairman is a super-shipshape ex-Naval officer living on a converted minesweeper. At the other end of the scale are an aging artist and a gregarious male prostitute. Quite different from one another, they are nonetheless linked by a common suspicion of land-bound life, and by their willingness to share each other's problems. The central character, Nenna James, still longing for her absent husband, is the single mother of two precocious girls, who gain a richer education at the water's edge than in their occasional visits to school, where the nuns pray regularly for their father's return. Page after page, this is a miraculous book, miraculous in its genial understanding of character, doubly miraculous in its powers of description. For example, the effect of the rising tide: "On every barge on the Reach a very faint ominous tap, no louder than the door of a cupboard shutting, would be followed by louder ones from every strake, timber and weatherboard, a fusillade of thunderous creaking, and even groans that seemed human. The crazy old vessels, riding high in the water without cargo, awaited their owners' return." Or the description of Stripey, the James children's mud-encrusted cat: "The ship's cat was in every way appropriate to the Reach. She habitually moved in a kind of nautical crawl, with her stomach close to the deck, as though close-furled and ready for dirty weather." For a while, the closed community of oddball characters seems almost a set-up for an Agatha Christie mystery, and Fitzgerald's first novel, THE GOLDEN CHILD, was indeed a mystery. But her remaining eight books -- all short, all astonishingly different -- take a more subtle tack. Whether based on her own life (including OFFSHORE and her other Booker nomination, THE BOOKSHOP) or set in distant times and places (pre-Revolutionary Moscow in THE BEGINNING OF SPRING, Goethe's Germany in THE BLUE FLOWER), they all share a sense of slightly sad comedy. So it is with OFFSHORE. Miracle-worker though she is, Fitzgerald eschews the easy miracle of a neatly sewn-up ending. The reader is left to imagine a consequence in which each of these lives moves forward into a new phase, perhaps happy, perhaps less so. But the close community of the opening has broken up. Writing in 1979, Fitzgerald sets the book in 1962, during the brief flowering of "swinging London," after which everything would change. Though no more than a faint background presence, she is extraordinarily sensitive to the pathos of impermanence. And she paints these lives lived on the margins of the tides with both a smile and a tear for their inherent unstability.

She took the time to write short

The leader of our discussion of Penelope Fitzgerald's "Offshore" hit the perfect note when she said that while she rarely reads a book more than once, reading this one again was a delight. I eagerly anticipate a second read. In a world where readers expect every detail to be laid before them and writers escape from the editor's desk with 500 or more pages left, this book is a gem. Examples: When an estranged husband ends a brief but vicious fight by screaming, "You are not a woman," you don't need pages of setting. When another character renames his boat after himself just to avoid confusion, you don't need chapters of background. This is a short, precise, fantastic, sympathetic view of the kind of person who would choose to live on a houseboat that is supported only by the riverbed and purged only by the tide. Read it twice.

Spare and brilliant

Penelope Fitzgerald's work is not about length. It's about depth. Her mastry lies in her ability to be as nuanced and profound as she in such few words. I think this is her best book.

the genuine article

It's difficult to summarize the appeal of Offshore, but unique as it is, it's the real thing: every sentence, every word counts; it has a gorgeous story (the breakup of a community, poignant and full of ironies); and people who are utterly real in their inconsistencies, their impulses, their irrational needs. You hardly realize as you're reading how perfect the thing is; that comes later, on reflection.

This should have been one Booker Award amongst many

The novels have all been read, but the stories continue. This was the last of Ms. Fitzgerald's novels that I had yet to read, and was also the only work of hers than won the prestigious Booker Award. Her other works that were short listed for the award were "The Bookshop", "The Gate Of Angels", and "The Beginning Of Spring". In a writing career that produced 9 works of fiction, to have placed 4 of the 9 as finalists, and to win once is extraordinary. These novels, 3 works of non-fiction, and a collection of short stories, were all published in a span of time of just 15 years. It is certainly selfish, but I wish she began sharing her work before she was 69, in the end it does not matter, as the body of work she did produce will keep her in print for many lifetimes to come.Ms. Fitzgerald wrote short novels; in "Offshore" she has compressed the story into a space that is at once confining and colorful as her books. The majority of the book takes place on boats, boats that never move. Boats that would normally form there own tiny area of culture, but this is Ms. Fitzgerald, so as is normally the case conventional measurement has nothing to do with the scope of the story. This time out she seems to test just how far she can compress the space, the number of people and their stories.This sometimes-floating living location is a raving contradiction in space. Boats and barges meant to be mobile are not, nature can use the tide of the Thames to raise and then settle them down once again, but any motion more abrupt and the small fragile world is put in peril. A motionless boat is a contradiction in terms. A boat is inanimate, but "it" knows that being chained in place is unnatural, or perhaps all the life that clings to the sides of these vessels are nature's disaffected elements, determined to find a way to undo what should not have been done."I never do anything deliberately" is spoken by one character, but is appropriate for several. This group of eclectic eccentrics may possibly be the greatest menagerie the writer ever conjured for one tale.I cannot begin to pick a favorite from her novels; she is as excellent as she is consistent. I do know this, that unlike her characters, Ms. Fitzgerald chose every word deliberately, built every sentence with her exactitude, and delivered works that are absolutely complete.The Booker Judges deemed this work "flawless", they were correct.
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