Wednesday, February 23, 2011

REVIEW: Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald. Published 1979 by Collins. This edition published 2003 by Everyman's Library. Literary Fiction. Winner of the Booker Prize.

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.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

11 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

including me? lol. Yes, I hear you and I am adding it right now

Care said...

This sounds PERFECT for me. Vivid, nuanced.

bermudaonion said...

Wow! A book that calls for an immediate re-read must be a gem!

caite said...

ooooh....I am off to check into this one...

Zibilee said...

I agree with Kathy, and think that if you read this book again right away, there must be something very wonderful about it. Off to check it out now. Thanks!

Kathleen said...

I've always been fascinated by the idea of living on a houseboat so that alone intrigues me about this one.

Mystica said...

This sounds such a good book. Thank you for this post.

Rayna Eliana said...

Good review, Marie..it sounds like a book I would like.

Sandra said...

I adored this book and recommend it to everyone. It was my second Fitzgerald, after The Bookshop. I've since read The Blue Flower and want to read more of her. But Offshore is something special I think.

Rose City Reader said...

Great review. You captured the charm of the book perfectly.

diaryofaneccentric said...

You had me at eccentric characters on a houseboat, LOL. I'll have to see if my library has a copy.