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Offshore Paperback – April 3, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Mariner ed edition (April 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395478049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395478042
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #582,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Offshore possesses perfect, very odd pitch. In just over 130 pages of the wittiest and most melancholy prose, Penelope Fitzgerald limns 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 center 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. --Kerry Fried

From Publishers Weekly

Housed in once-seaworthy barges on the Thames, half-a-dozen irrepressibly quirky people and their collective rat-fearing cat give each otherand the charmed readeradvice and comfort. Chief among them are Richard, whose boat and person are always shipshape, and Nenna, whose aren't, partly because her husband Edward refuses to live on a boat but mainly because she has reached that vulnerable point in her maternal affairs at which she recognizes the superior capability of her 12-year-old daughter Martha. It is Martha who gets supper on the table and calls Tilda, six, down from the mast, where she sits declaiming passages from courtly tales of kings and queens. For all except Richard, who goes to a proper job at nine o'clock every morning, life is so precarious that old Willis, the marine painter, must sell his decrepit boat (at low tide, when the leaks won't be noticed), and young Maurice, Nenna's best friend, must eke out his living as a male prostitute by receiving stolen goods. In short order, matters take several ironic turns that disrupt the carefree, if scrubby, ease of barge life. Fitzgerald, whose Innocence was published to acclaim here last year, won the Booker Prize in 1979 with this earlier novel. With economical prose and wonderfully vivid dialogue, she fashions a wry, fast-moving story whose ambiguous ending is exactly right, although it leaves readers (and one of the characters) hanging.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Characters not defined or fleshed out.
Bushnanna
It's quite short, so I did finish it, but so little happened in those pages, I would not recommend this book to anyone.
R. Rubenstein
The merit of Fitzgerald is that she's able to capture that murkiness without allowing it to become banal.
Kerry Walters

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
The first from a writer who believes less is more. Her work does more with the nuance of a sentence than most writers accomplish in a chapter. A review below complains that she's no A. S. Byatt, and it's true. If you like a lot of exposition and dense writing, this is not for you. But the beautifully described world of the waterfront, and the wafting lives that intersect there made this an enduring work in my imagination.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on October 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
The novels have all been read, but the stories continue. This was the last of Ms. Fitzgerald's novels that I had yet to read, and was also the only work of hers than won the prestigious Booker Award. Her other works that were short listed for the award were "The Bookshop", "The Gate Of Angels", and "The Beginning Of Spring". In a writing career that produced 9 works of fiction, to have placed 4 of the 9 as finalists, and to win once is extraordinary. These novels, 3 works of non-fiction, and a collection of short stories, were all published in a span of time of just 15 years. It is certainly selfish, but I wish she began sharing her work before she was 69, in the end it does not matter, as the body of work she did produce will keep her in print for many lifetimes to come.
Ms. Fitzgerald wrote short novels; in "Offshore" she has compressed the story into a space that is at once confining and colorful as her books. The majority of the book takes place on boats, boats that never move. Boats that would normally form there own tiny area of culture, but this is Ms. Fitzgerald, so as is normally the case conventional measurement has nothing to do with the scope of the story. This time out she seems to test just how far she can compress the space, the number of people and their stories.
This sometimes-floating living location is a raving contradiction in space. Boats and barges meant to be mobile are not, nature can use the tide of the Thames to raise and then settle them down once again, but any motion more abrupt and the small fragile world is put in peril. A motionless boat is a contradiction in terms.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By shannu on November 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
I must start off by saying that the late Penelope Fitzgerald deserved the literary accolades showered upon her. This is the first book that I have read by Fitzgerald and I must admit that it was not what I was expecting. Knowing that this book had won the distinguished Booker Prize, I settled into it with high expectations. I must warn readers that they should not expect a plot-driven novel in Offshore. The strength of Fitzgerald's book is the character development. She has a knack for the subtleties of human emotion and the strong bond that exists among the residents of Battersea. The main theme of the novel is original: this group of outcasts lives somewhere in between land and sea and have formed their own little community. The book has its moments: the characters of Martha and Tildie are particularly intriguing. However, in my opinion, the book is a disappointment. I must admit that I have little patience for a book with so little momentum when the characters do not generally appeal to me. The shortness of the novel may appeal to some readers: personally, I prefer the larger opus that moves the story along. A terrific book in its own right but simply not my cup of tea.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By CephasDoc@aol.com on January 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
Well written novels are often a chore to read; many authors seem determined to prove that they can write, and produce mounds of lovely prose which has to be shoveled aside like so much heavy snow to get purchase on the story underneath. Not so with Penelope Fitzgerald. "Offshore" is a masterpiece of brevity. The quirky tale of a collection of misfits living on houseboats in 60's London, the book is something of a literary sketchbook, each character drawn with a few deft strokes. There is Willis, for example: "[H]is moral standards were much the same as Richard's; only he did not feel he was well enough off to apply them as often, and in such a wide range of conditions..." Then there is Tilda: "She was known to be one of the little ones who had filled in their colouring books irreverently, making our Lord's beard purple, or even green, largely, to be sure, because she never bothered to get hold of the best crayons first." All of this is a delight to read. My only complaint is the somewhat framentary nature of the narrative; all the parts are well made, but they don't make a particularly coherent whole. Definitely a book worth reading, though.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cincinnati Kid on September 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
Penelope Fitzgerald was in vogue in the years before her death in 2000. She started writing well into her sixties and produced a brace of novels and some other books, being nominated for the Booker four times and winning it for Offshore.

Deservedly so. Offshore is her masterpiece and a terrific piece on a standalone basis. The plot and characters are familiar to all. An assortment of misfits, not suited for life in the swinging London of the early sixties take refuge on various crafts, mostly barges, at Battersea Reach on the Thames. They are "offshore" in more ways than one, ill accustomed not only to the provenance of swinging London but to life itself, personified in the wearing action of time and tide in the metaphoric Thames.

One would hope that time will not have the same eroding effect on Fitzgerald's readership. She should not be forgotten and she should be valued for her significant accomplishment in all her works, but especially here.

To call Fitzgerald a miniaturist is to belittle her art and her achievement. This work may be short but it is a big book, as the Booker Jury realized, depicting the struggle to survive and even to give identity to one's life as Richard, Maurice, Willis and Nenna and her amazing girls and "sagacious brute" of a cat, Stripey, attempt to do.

That they fail is not a subject of criticism, but is described with wit and charm and even love. Offshore's characters are eccentric but very recognizably human, and their shortcomings are ones we have all experienced. The Thames, a symbol here of the flow of life itself, eventually defeats them, but then whom does life not?

For me, the yearning and earthy Nenna, sums it all up when she plaintively asks her cold hearted and unworthy husband, "Forgive!
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