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Offshore (Flamingo) Paperback – 1 Sep 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New edition edition (1 Sept. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006542565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006542568
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 505,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. Three of her novels, The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She won the Prize in 1979 for Offshore. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the 'Book of the Year'. It won America's National Book Critics' Circle Award.
She died in April 2000, at the age of eighty three.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Offshore possesses perfect, very odd pitch. In just over 130 pages of the wittiest and most melancholy prose, Penelope Fitzgerald illuminates the lives of "creatures neither of firm land nor water"--a group of barge-dwellers in London's Battersea Reach, circa 1961. One man, a marine artist whose commissions have dropped off since the war, is attempting to sell his decrepit craft before it sinks. Another, a dutiful businessman with a bored, mutinous wife, knows he should be landlocked but remains drawn to the muddy Thames. A third, Maurice, a male prostitute, doesn't even protest when a criminal acquaintance begins to use his barge as a depot for stolen goods: "The dangerous and the ridiculous were necessary to his life, otherwise tenderness would overwhelm him."

At the centre of the novel--winner of the 1979 Booker Prize--are Nenna and her truant six- and 11-year-old daughters. The younger sibling "cared nothing for the future, and had, as a result, a great capacity for happiness." But the older girl is considerably less blithe. "Small and thin, with dark eyes which already showed an acceptance of the world's shortcomings," Fitzgerald writes, she "was not like her mother and even less like her father. The crucial moment when children realise that their parents are younger than they are had long since been passed by Martha."

Their father is farther afield. Unable to bear the prospect of living on the Grace, he's staying in Stoke Newington, part of London but a lost world to his wife and daughters. Meanwhile, Nenna spends her time going over incidents that seem to have led to her current situation, and the matter of some missing squash racquets becomes of increasing import. Though she is peaceful by nature, experience and poverty are wearing Nenna down. Her confidante Maurice, after a momentary spell of optimism, also returns to his life of little expectation and quiet acceptance: "Tenderly responsive to the self-deceptions of others, he was unfortunately too well able to understand his own."

Penelope Fitzgerald views her creations with deep but wry compassion. Having lived on a barge herself, she offers her expert spin on the dangers, graces and whimsies of river life. Nenna, too, has become a savant, instantly recognizing on one occasion that the mud encasing the family cat is not from the Reach. This "sagacious brute" is almost as complex as his human counterparts, constantly forced to adjust her notions of vermin and authority. Though Stripey is capable of catching and killing very young rats, the older ones chase her. "The resulting uncertainty as to whether she was coming or going had made her, to some extent, mentally unstable."

As always, Fitzgerald is a master of the initially bizarre juxtaposition. Adjacent sentences often seem like delightful non sequiturs--until they flash together in an effortless evocation of character, era and human absurdity. Nenna recalls, for instance, how the buds had dropped off the plant her husband rushed to the hospital when Martha was born. She "had never criticized the bloomless azalea. It was the other young mothers in the beds each side of her who had laughed at it. That had been 1951. Two of the new babies in the ward had been christened Festival." Tiny comical epiphanies such as these have caused the author to be dubbed a "British miniaturist". Yet the phrase utterly misses the risks Fitzgerald's novellas take, the discoveries they make and the endless pleasures they provide.


Praise for Penelope Fitzgerald and ‘Offshore’:

‘An astonishing book. Hardly more than 50,000 words, it is written with a manic economy that makes it seem even shorter, and with a tamped-down force that continually explodes in a series of exactly controlled detonations. “Offshore” is a marvellous achievement: strong, supple, humane, ripe, generous and graceful.’ Bernard Levin, Sunday Times

‘She writes the kind of fiction in which perfection is almost to be hoped for, unostentatious as true virtuosity can make it, its texture a pure pleasure.’ Frank Kermode, London Review of Books

‘Perfectly balanced…the novelistic equivalent of a Turner watercolour.’ Washington Post

‘Reading a Penelope Fitzgerald novel is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality – the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence. Then, after a mile or so, someone throws the steering-wheel out of the window.’ Sebastian Faulks

‘This Booker prize winner is a slightly dark, witty novel … The brilliant Fitzgerald takes a subtle squint at thwarted love, loneliness and the human need to be necessary’ Val Hennessy, Daily Mail

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Alex Magpie on 4 Feb. 2003
Format: Paperback
Fitzgerald's talent lies in the way she can make her characters interact and "live". Although less than two hundred pages Offshore captures the spirit of a whole host of people all very different and unique. From the poverty stricken Nenna and family to the affluent Richard and Laura via the shady nature of Maurice's occupation- Fitzgerald runs the gauntlet of different problems and outlooks. Fitzgerald never directly mentions the meaning, behind these characters' lives, but we understand more, through her writing, about love, loss and social difference.
The cold, mist and mud can all be felt through Fitzgerald's descriptions of the Thames along with the warmth the humanity of the barges' inhabitants. Within the day-to-day workings of the barge dwellers is a story of jealousy and doom which surfaces slowly during the novel and emerges at the climax in an unforgettable end that is truly chilling.
What makes Offshore imperfect is its limited length. Although a novella often has the tautness and direction longer novels lack it can often be at the sacrifice of material that would draw the reader closer into the fictional world. This is the case in Offshore- although all the characters are precisely defined and the story line never deviates away from the path, it seems that we never get close enough to Nenna and co to really feel for them. In a way it seems such vivid and finely crafted characters are wasted.
Nevertheless, Fitzgerald has written an encompassing and bittersweet tale of people living in unordinary circumstances.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Trevor Coote on 18 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
I came to reading the novels of Penelope Fitzgerald at almost advanced an age as she came to writing them. They are in the main exquisite vignettes of life written with a delicate charm which give windows into the lives of small communities: a 1950s East Anglian coastal town, BBC wartime radio presenters, a cloistered Cambridge college in Edwardian times and, in Offshore, the houseboat community of Battersea Reach in the 1960s.
In this 1979 Booker Prize winner we find ourselves in the middle of a close, isolated community bobbing around in the tidal Thames: Nenna, a sad young woman estranged from the husband that she loves but who is unable to get him back and her two young children who are growing up barely noticed by their mother; Maurice, a kindly homosexual whose `job' is only whispered about; Richard, an ex-Navy man and his troubled marriage to Laura; Willis, the marine painter who has never been to sea. All are searching for the means to stabilise their current bumpy lives and to give structure to their existence. But as important to the story as the human element is the eclectic mix of floating vessels which are characters in their own right: Dreadnought, Maurice, Grace and Lord Jim. The community, however, is in decline.
Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the finest British novelists in the second half of the twentieth century.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 12 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
One of Penelope Fitzgerald's finest novels, 'Offshore' tells the story of a group of Londoners living on houseboats on the Chelsea Reach in the 1960s. Nenna, deserted by her useless husband, struggles to bring up her two girls, sturdy young Tilda, always lost in dreams of the Thames in history, and practical, caring Martha. Maurice, a male prostitute, is a good friend to Nenna, but not very good at managing his own affairs. Willis, a former naval artist, struggles to keep his dilapidated houseboat afloat and takes great pleasure in the company of Tilda. And Richard, the only one of this motley crew to have much money, takes enormous aesthetic pleasure in life on the Reach but worries about his upper-middle-class perpetually bored wife Laura, and gradually realizes that he is becoming attracted to Nenna. Fitzgerald brings this community beautifully to life, in all their dramas and interactions. She is wonderful at capturing the world of the child - Martha and Tilda come across as real people, and are not in the least coy or irritating, but also, clearly, see the world in a rather different way to the adults around them. There are some very fine descriptions of Chelsea and Battersea in the 1960s - I particularly liked the scenes when Martha and Tilda go foraging for De Morgan tiles along the riverbank, and where they take Heinrich, a young German boy, down the King's Road to experience 'Swinging London'. Although this is a book with some rather tragic moments in it, it's also very, very funny in places. Fitzgerald has a real knack for dialogue and for observing quirks in people.

If I had any criticism of the novel at all it was that it ended rather abruptly - we never find out what happened after the storm, or why exactly Nenna comes to the decisions that she does in the final chapter. But it's possible that making the book longer could have spoiled its wonderful, compact structure and taut prose style. All in all a real gem of a book, by a wonderful writer.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 April 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is a tiny little jewel, so tiny, in fact, that some of its facets are obscure.
I truly enjoyed the book, but felt that it was either the last half of a very sad story, or the middle third of a happy one. We are thrust in almost expected to know the characters already. As though Ms. Fitzgerald decided to write a book so short there was no time to develope them. The result is not bad characters, but enigmatic ones.
Additionally, I was disturbed by how sentient Tilda, a six year old, was. She had the childlike attitude appropriate to her age, but prescience of an elderly woman.
Finally, there are passages and implications that are so subtle that the reader is left wondering what actually happened. The back jacket calls a character a male prostitute. The only evidence in the book of this is another character telling Tilda "I could tell you what he does for a's awful." or something similar. I don't necessarily get prostitute from that.
So I feel like I missed the first half of the book, when all this was explained. No regret that I read it though, and I'll read more fitzgerald.
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