Penelope Fitzgerald's Booker Prize-winning novel of loneliness and connecting is set among the houseboat community of the Thames and has a new introduction from Alan Hollinghurst.
On Battersea Reach, a mixed bag of the temporarily lost and the patently eccentric live on houseboats, rising and falling with the tide of the Thames.
There is good-natured Maurice, by occupation a male prostitute, by chance a receiver of stolen goods. And Richard, an ex-navy man whose boat, much like its owner, dominates the Reach. Then there is Nenna, an abandoned wife and mother of two young girls running wild on the muddy foreshore, whose domestic predicament, as it deepens, will draw this disparate community together.
"An astonishing book.... Offshore is a marvellous achievement: strong, supple, humane, ripe, generous and graceful." (Bernard Levin, Sunday Times)
"Perfectly balanced...the novelistic equivalent of a Turner watercolour." (Washington Post)
"This Booker prize winner is a slightly dark, witty novel.... The brilliant Fitzgerald takes a subtle squint at thwarted love, loneliness and the human need to be necessary." (Val Hennessy, Daily Mail)
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He renders the characters' voices well (even when faced with a Canadian accent), but I found his tone when reading the narrative sing-song and infantilising, like he was reading me Winnie the Pooh. Quite unsuitable for a bleak, grown-up novel like this one.
Not Fitzgerald's best, but a strong book – compressed, allusive, subtle and often funny, much like her others. The voice of Alan Hollinghurst's baritone reading his insightful Introduction to the reissue is a treat and almost worth the price of the audiobook.