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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 4 February 2003
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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on 29 May 2017
The children are portrayed as natural, feral rebels with endearing qualities whilst the adults are gentle caricatures of different stereotypes.
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on 22 May 2017
enjoyed it
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on 10 March 2017
Have only recently discovered this author and I have to say I wish I done it sooner. An excellent read
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on 5 March 2017
Unusual, funny and touching read
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on 5 June 2017
Strange book
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 January 2012
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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on 3 September 2016
This novella won the Booker in 1979. I wonder why. It had glowing reviews and Fitzgerald was quite recently celebrated with a reissue of this and her other Booker-nominated works. As a first-time reader, I must admit to feeling lost about the fuss, even with the benefit of a glowing new introduction by fellow Booker alumni Alan Hollinghurst.

Offering a glimpse of the lives of the houseboat community at the Battersea Reach in the Thames circa 1960, the characters are undeveloped and motivations skimpily dealt with. What was praised as brevity, I felt it was a paltry and undeveloped narrative that jumped from one character to the next in a schizophrenic fashion. Richard Blake is something of an unofficial leader of the community, and his ex-Navy experience grants him good stead. Maurice, a young affable sailor with greater ambitions, is not a good judge of character, and unwittingly lets his friend Harry use his boat for shady dealings. Then there's Nenna, abandoned by her husband, Edward, whom I gather has the same problem with living on the boat as Richard's wife, Laura, so it comes as no surprise what happens next when their respective spouses have enough of this unsatisfactory way of making a home.

Nenna's children, Martha and Tilda, are given such unrealistic speech for children that it renders the supposedly innocent wisdom of six-year-old Tilda especially, contrived and totally unbelievable. And the stilted dialogue isn't just limited to the children. When Nenna decides to confront Edward to salvage the marriage or to confront him, the way they quarrel and how Nenna speaks to Edward's landlord, and his mother, both of whom Nenna had just met, totally blew me away, and not in a good way.

By the end of this thankfully short book, I was no wiser about any of the characters' struggles, although there were a few weak attempts to show their isolation and outcast status in society. The much-talked about bond between these houseboat dwellers merely culminated in a few sit togethers after-hours. What a colossal disappointment.
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on 18 December 2009
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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on 8 February 2008
This book follows the lives of a group of people living on house boats (redundant Dutch Barges) on the Thames at Battersea Reach. There is no real plot - it is more of a snapshot of a point in time of the characters' lives ("Chekovian" says Sue Roberts). Penelope Fitzgerald uses her words VERY carefully and with great economy and with great success. This is a book to read a second time in order to appreciate the subtlety and depth within it. The more we discussed the book the more we found to talk about and just couldn't stop ourselves digging out quotes and lines. Somehow in such a short book there is so much detail - though no colour. The book is a testament to the 1960's - women who can't fold maps, order a drink in a pub, draw corks, fold the times, hammer nails in or strike matches toward themselves. And single parent families are not the norm - they are socially shocking. Would we recommend it? It's not a happy book, it's quite depressing, it's grey, the humour is deepest dark, it's left to you to decide about the people; it's interesting, it's crammed full of great reading. YES almost without exception we agreed that of course we would recommend it.
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