4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Funny, Touching and Wistful,
This review is from: Offshore (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.