Offshore: A Novel

Offshore: A Novel


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Winner of the Booker Prize

On the Battersea Reach of the Thames, a mixed bag of the slightly disreputable, the temporarily lost, and the patently eccentric live on houseboats, rising and falling with the great river’s tides. Belonging to neither land nor sea, they cling to one another in a motley yet kindly society. There is Maurice, by occupation a male prostitute, by happenstance a receiver of stolen goods. And Richard, a buttoned-up ex-navy man whose boat dominates the Reach. Then there is Nenna, a faithful but abandoned wife, the diffident mother of two young girls running wild on the waterfront streets.

It is Nenna’s domestic predicament that, as it deepens, draws the relations among this scrubby community together into ever more complex and comic patterns. The result is one of Fitzgerald’s greatest triumphs, a novel the Booker judges deemed “flawless.”

“A marvelous achievement: strong, supple, humane, ripe, generous, and graceful.” —Sunday Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544361515
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/14/2014
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 211,324
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 5.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

PENELOPE FITZGERALD (1916–2000) was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction for The Blue Flower, the Booker Prize for Offshore, and three of her novels — The Bookshop,The Gate of Angels, and The Beginning of Spring were short-listed for the Booker Prize.

Date of Birth:

December 17, 1916

Date of Death:

May 3, 2000

Place of Birth:

Lincoln, England

Place of Death:

London, England


Somerville College, Oxford University, 1939

What People are Saying About This

Frank Kermode

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.

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Offshore 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
jeritree More than 1 year ago
Reading Offshore is living moment by moment in Fitzgerald's house-boat setting on the Thames, with real, breathing, unique characters of all ages and dispositions. She is a master here of portraying the river-scape, using the exact terminology of houseboat reality and giving an intricate portrayal of people just like us, not the "larger-than-life" variety, but those caught up in in the ways life lives us even as we struggle to persevere and to know ourselves. This book is for readers who love boat-life, dramas of survival and taking the journey with a great craftswoman of language and portrayal.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Battersea Reach, ladies and gentlemen. On your right, the artistic colony. Folks live on those boats like they do on the Seine, it's the artist's life they're leading there. Yes, there's people living on those boats." (p. 16)Along the banks of the Thames, a small group of boats sit permanently anchored, serving as home not to artists, but to a ragtag group of residents who, for various reasons, have chosen to live on the river instead of on land. Their de facto leader is Richard, of the Lord Jim, by far the best-kept boat in the group. Grace is home to Nenna and her two daughters. Her husband has left them and the girls attend school only occasionally. One boat's owner allows stolen goods to be held on board. Another is trying to sell his boat, and hopes none of the other residents will tell prospective buyers about the leak. The characters were largely misfits, with humorous quirks. I was sympathetic towards Nenna, with her general awkwardness, her difficulty raising young daughters alone, and and her inability to rescue her marriage. Unfortunately however, the central theme of the novel eluded me. There were also several loose ends and incongruities in the plot. It was a light and sometimes pleasant read, but I am positively baffled as to how it won the Booker Prize. Ah well, at least it was short.
eglinton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well-written, concise, and evocative. The milieu of a down-at-heel backside to '60s Swinging London is conveyed through a medley of credible but dreary characters. This period and the author's staid prose style give lots of the language and references a pleasantly dated feel ('TCP', 'anorak', 'Officer' addressing a policeman). Some characters' motivations may seem a bit dated too, but without the charm gained from a completely alien setting (Enlightenment Prussia in 'The Blue Flower', to take her well-known example). So these lame and defeated characters on the Thames barges of 'Offshore' don't think like us, but are close enough in time and place for it to be harder for the modern reader to empathise. TO put it more simply, the characters are not very likeable (and this is a character-driven novel).
writestuff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Penelope Fitzgerald¿s Booker Prize winning novel Offshore is set in the 1960¿s along the Thames and introduces a cast of eccentric and unique characters whose lives criss-cross and intersect as they go about their days on the worn out barges of the area. There is Richard, a retired navy man whose desire for organization unites the others, and Maurice who receives stolen goods, and Willis whose boat Dreadnought is fated for tragedy. But, it is perhaps Nenna who is the most interesting - a woman who has been abandoned by her husband and is trying to raise two precocious, young girls. Tilly, the youngest daughter, loves barge life and her courageous and lively spirit is infectious.As Fitzgerald¿s novella progresses, it is Nenna¿s domestic unhappiness which unites the characters, and it is Tilly¿s innocent optimism which creates the irony in the story.Fitzgerald¿s story is full of a black humor and her writing is clear and descriptive. Offshore feels much like a character study or a long short story, and its ending is both unexpected and unresolved.This was my first Fitzgerald novel, and I appreciated her wonderful use of language and development of the characters. But when I turned the last page I felt oddly disconnected and disappointed. I wanted more, yet there was no more to be had. Offshore is strongly literary in style and it is a quick read. It whet my appetite for more of Penelope Fitzgerald¿s work.
Lman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If, in your reading material, you appreciate a sublime but deliberate choice of wording which, in its calculated brevity, paints a magnificent panorama, then Penelope Fitzgerald¿s Offshore will utterly delight ¿ as it did me.As plain as it is titled, this book is the briefest glimpse ¿ a snapshot in essence ¿ into a chapter of the lives of a disparate group of barge-dwellers; who actually live `offshore¿ on the Thames River, in the shadow of Battersea Bridge, London. And much akin with the river itself, their lives are as ordered, oft-times, by the tides that control their houseboats, and as chaotic as living on a seething, ever-changing, moving mass of water can be ¿ amidst the interminable consternation of the surrounding land-dwellers. Drawn together by their individuality, this unique little community, full of eclectic but endearing eccentrics, is thus peculiarly-shaped, and irrevocably altered, by the every choice of dwelling in such absurdity brings ¿ the events which occur almost preordained in their inevitability.In this book, there is so very much to like in so very little. This is my second Penelope Fitzgerald ¿ and I have come to realise that Ms Fitzgerald is a consummate word-smith. Everything in this book is slightly askew, and intentionally so! Every word is chosen with a deliberation that in its conciseness elaborates, and discloses, such a welter of information and such colourful characterisations ¿ which you know could never be conveyed as well, and would undoubtedly be lost, within a larger body of work ¿ resulting in a superbly-crafted inference on the society of the time. By invoking a delicate humour on every page, this accentuates the underlying poignancy of the situation; detailing the random, indiscriminate thoughts of the barge residents - from wistful Nenna and her precocious brood to ex-navy Richard and his desire for everything to be ship-shape - discloses a complexity and a quality, a warmth, to this motley group inhabiting such a fascinating world. But best of all, in regards to this marvellous book, is the respect Ms Fitzgerald pays her reader. She knows that in her succinct exposition the reader will grasp what is left unsaid; that a suggestion and a nuance, a dry wit, is all that is required to reveal the entire picture, and to be completely understood. There is a line on every page in Offshore that I could quote to exemplify the many, many beautiful constructs the author uses. This book made me laugh-out-loud, made me despair and made me ponder; made me return again and again to the immaculately-created phrasings, and in the end, left me wanting much more. And, like the inhabitants of Battersea Reach, I am left floundering, and in two minds, and all at sea with the world ¿ and quite `off¿! Just remarkable!(May 1, 2009)
LMHTWB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having read Offshore twice, I'm still not sure what to make of it. The story centers on Nena, a mother of two daughters, who lives on a barge anchored in the Thames River. Her fellow boat owners, like their boats, are an odd assortment with flaws which may lead to their downfall (or sinking). The story, itself, has no clear plot. Instead it follows these people in brief threads which may lead to no resolution. In one sense, this is a collection of related short stories woven together by common characters. Unfortunately, with Nena being a possible exception, none of the characters are fully developed or explored.The writing, however, is finely done. This was a saving feature to me of this book.
jklavanian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Characters were interesting (especially Tilda -- as A.S. Byatt wrote in the introduction to Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris, Fitzgerald got Tilda right).
jeffome on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Just seemed an odd narrative about some odd people in odd situations, and the story never really went anywhere......odd. The few characters i sort of almost cared about never did anything, and the ones i wanted to know more about did even less....likewise the story. The end felt like i was mid-paragraph in the middle of a chapter part-way through a book....i thought maybe part of my book was missing.....the one positive note is that I am grateful for the chance to think about, however oddly and briefly, the fact that there are those living in boats in rivers.......felt like it had potential in the beginning but it ended up a rare overall disappointment in my reading.
jburlinson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Winner of the 1979 Booker Prize, this novel sparked a mild controversy, with some critics alleging that the jury went overboard for a minor, even insubstantial, offering. Short, it is. Low-calorie, it is not. The book deals with people of all ages who live in barges or houseboats on the Thames, quite literally between the land and the sea. And they (and by extension we?) are in transition between one mode of life and another, without really knowing how (or even whether) to undergo the transformation. Scenes are short, often a paragraph or two, sometimes only a sentence or a fragment. Perspective shifts from character to character, but the reader is never confused or less than fully engaged. Dialog is exact and yet suggestive. Nearly every page contains a felicitous, original touch. Just a single example, one that tickles me ¿ of a German teenager who briefly spends an afternoon with one of the houseboat families, Fitzgerald writes: ¿With a faint smile the young Count turned to thank his saviour, while some colour stealed, stole, back into his pale cheeks.¿ Fitzgerald certainly knows the correct past tense of ¿to steal¿, but she bleeps the reader that the German boy is not quite sure, but wants to be, just as he wants to be considered less insecure than, in fact, he is. All this subtlety for a character that appears for just a few pages. But, then, for Fitzgerald, there are no minor characters.
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Persuasively captures the community existing among the houseboat dwellers on the river in London. Unflinching, courageous, and beautifully written.
millerker76 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful. A slim book. Set among a group of staunch individuals whose homes are reworked barges on the Thames.Read it twice. Will start reading her others. The characters are memorable and sympathetic, the protaganist's two girls are simply unforgettable. A pleasure.
Drora More than 1 year ago
Very "British" in nature and language.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago