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
Her books are beautifully written, but all I have read so far, end badly for the protagonists. With all of the horror happening in the world at the moment, I have not tried... Read morePublished 2 months ago by mishon
Have ordered this e book on my Kindle but not yet downloaded. Where is the e-book?
Have tried to contact Amazon but no help yet.
I liked this book a lot and will probably buy more books by the same author. Hope more people discover her, now that she is in print again!Published 5 months ago by Aija Sadurskis
If you are into disjointed story lines, dialogue that careens, and no resolution to a "plot" - then you will love this work. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
I wasn't fond of this fiction. Sorry Penelope it is me not you. I found it to be quite bizarre from start to abrupt end.Published 9 months ago by Jose
"Offshore" is a slender, accessible novel that some readers might think, as some critics did when it was first published and as I did on first reading it, a bit of a lark--quirky,... Read morePublished 10 months ago by D. Cloyce Smith
"There isn't one kind of happiness, there's all kinds", Maurice, a male prostitute, tells Nenna (the main character in this novel). Read morePublished 12 months ago by Marit Johnsen
A rambling, pointless story. No thought ever fully developed or finished. Characters not defined or fleshed out. Ending so abruptly, I thought my device had failed. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Bushnanna
Great characters set against London's docklands in the early 1960s. Penelope Fitzgerald captures perfect moments with charm and real affection for this menagerie of outsiders -... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Mat Estrada