Wednesday, February 23, 2011
REVIEW: Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald
Winner of the Booker Prize in 1979, Offshore is quiet, short novel about a group of eccentric characters living in houseboats on the Thames River in London. The main focus is on Nenna and her children, precocious Tilda and milder Martha; Martha longs for normalcy while Tilda embraces the chaos of houseboat river living. Grace is the name of their boat; Nenna's husband, Edward, has left them. Richard is a retired Royal Naval Reserve officer, very comme il faut, who lives on a very nice boat. His wife, the beautiful Laura, is discontented with barge life. Maurice is a small-time criminal and male prostitute. A pair of minor tragedies upset this delicately poised group and it slowly disintegrates.
Life on the Battersea Reach is a world apart from life on the shore, with its own rules and codes of conduct. Some find it quite suitable, like Nenna and Richard, to whom she is attracted. Others, like Laura and Martha, want a so-called normal life on land. Nenna's husband Edward is harmless and feckless and the two just can't seem to find common ground. Meanwhile their daughters are growing up and involved in little intrigues of their own.
I really enjoyed Offshore. It's a little gem about personalities and lifestyles intersecting and mingling like slow-moving driftwood at the water's edge. While short, Offshore is not a quick read but rather requires a careful and attentive reader. The characters are vivid and detailed; the setting is unusual and fascinating. I re-read it as soon as I finished just to savor its little nuances and details. A tiny masterpiece, Offshore should be on the shelf of every reader of literary fiction.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.