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Offshore

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She isn’t meant to be the main character, but for me the only parts of the book that had life were the ones she was central to.

For a while, the closed community of oddball characters seems almost a set-up for an Agatha Christie mystery, and Fitzgerald's first novel, THE GOLDEN CHILD , was indeed a mystery. Hardly more than 50,000 words, it is written with a manic economy that makes it seem even shorter, and with a tamped-down force that continually explodes in a series of exactly controlled detonations.Sometimes it leads to an impulsive decision (which I may or may not regret), other times I try to pass the decision to someone else, or just avoid making it altogether. An exquisite little novel in which not much happens until the end, and yet, due to storms of all kinds, the whole world of each protagonist changes irrevocably. There is good-natured Maurice, by occupation a male prostitute, by chance a receiver of stolen goods. In describing a group of people rather than zooming in on just a few individuals the story loses its impact.

For who else would get so much into just 181 pages, making it the ideal companion to a trip where every gramme of weight counted since I was carrying the necessary over hill and dale myself? Their dwelling is determined by something in their characters: 'They aspired towards the Chelsea shore…. In fact, tradition dictates that owners are addressed by the name of their boat, though that doesn't happen all the time, and one owner thwarts it by changing the name of his boat to match his own name.Most people only set foot on a boat for the purpose of pleasure and so imagine life on a barge to be sheer, uninterrupted delight. penelope fitzgerald's humour is so dry that you could fry an egg on it whilst the characters are so vivid they will hold your soul forever. Otherwise, Offshore was the perfect antidote to Dostoyevsky, who, in turn, is the perfect antidote to novels like Offshore. You might say the world is constantly moving beneath all of us but only those who live on boats are fully aware of it.

Her admirers are drawn to Fitzgerald's sparseness of expression and her ability to trace the subtle social interactions between disparate characters, who often work or live together in small, offbeat communities. He lives on a converted minesweeper, not because he has to but because, having been a naval officer during the War, he just likes ships.Writing in 1979, Fitzgerald sets the book in 1962, during the brief flowering of "swinging London," after which everything would change. I am a quote marker, and I found that I had read this book and marked only two passages, and neither of them was striking. Maurice, Richard, Willis, Nenna and her children Martha and Tilda, and even Stripy the cat - all offshore, living on barges anchored on the Thames at the Battersea Reach.

The socialisation of women into caring, empathic, expressive skills is less visible, indeed, in this book it is never mentioned. Later on in the book, we also meet Woodie who lives on one of the boats in the summer; Edward, Nenna's estranged husband; Nenna's sister from Canada, who's come to take Nenna back home; and finally, Heinrich, a young man who spends a day with Martha before he heads home in Venna. At first, “Offshore” seems like a farcical soap opera involving an eccentric little community of barge-dwellers on the Thames near Blackheath Bridge in the early 1960s. However, both Nenna and Maurice possess the ability to express their feelings, which Richard says he lacks. Stephanie Racine, the advisory editor, narrates a very short preface written by biographer Hermione Lee, she being the author of Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.Nenna is a quondam classical musician, sweet but generally hopeless at life skills - in a way an attractive middle class woman could still just about carry off back then - separated from her equally incompetent and disorganised husband; her two daughters are exactly the sort of clever children that fans of books like this one would have wanted to be friends with when *they* were kids themselves - though to older eyes, one has taken on rather a lot of codependent / young carer characteristics. But if Edward does not want to live on Grace, why doesn't Nenna sell up and go to live with him instead? Here the chick-lit trope of the gay male friend is embodied by Maurice, a lovingly drawn character whom Fitzgerald based on a real friend of hers. Though no more than a faint background presence, she is extraordinarily sensitive to the pathos of impermanence. Offshore is a melancholy book about a bunch of misfits living out their miserable existences on houseboats on a stretch of the river Thames.

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