I can t rate a book so beautifully written with just one star so two But if I was rating it on the interesting plot the fascinating characters I wanted to know more about the unusual setting of ho
I can't rate a book so beautifully written with just one star, so two. But if I was rating it on the interesting plot, the fascinating characters I wanted to know more about, the unusual setting of houseboats on the Thames or just sheer enjoyment of passing a few hours in another world, I would have given it 1 star which equals boring book about people (apart from the children, I liked them, wild little things that they were) I couldn't care less about.I have read about three other of Penelope Fitzgerald's books. Apart from The Bookshop, I didn't like the others much and hated At Freddie's so much it only did get one star (I didn't even like the writing). I read this because it was a present. A friend asked me if I'd like a book or chocolates. I said that I was on a diet (another one) so a book please. I chose wrong. What's a bit of extra flesh compared to sending so many brain cells into an ennui-induced coma? (Besides I snack a lot when I'm bored).Popular Offshore Author Penelope Fitzgerald go inside Book 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 stoOn 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 complex and comic patterns.An alternative cover edition for this ISBN can be found here. Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer In 2008, The Times included her in a list of The 50 greatest British writers since 1945 In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, The Blue Flower, as one of the ten best historical novels Fitzgerald was the author of nine novels Her novel Offshore was the winner of the Booker Prize A further three novels The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels also made the shortlist.She was educated at Wycombe Abbey and Somerville College, Oxford university, from which she graduated in 1938 with a congratulatory First.. Popular Book Offshore 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. Flux, Transition, Contrast, Stagnation "Reality seemed to have lost its accustomed hold, just as the day wavered uncertainly between night and morning."Everyone lives between land and water, but each is also caught in some other dichotomy: childhood or adulthood; togetherness or separation; comfort or poverty; in or out of love; life or death; artistry or manual labour; dreams or cold reality. "Decision is torment for anyone with imagination... [because] you multiply the things you might have done and now never can". But that can lead to paralysis.Parallels in my LifeI don't relate to the specific circumstances, and it’s set before I was born, but the paralysis of indecision, when torn between two thoughts or situations is something I often struggle with. 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. I feel I should be able to learn from this beautiful book, but it suggests diagnosis (which I'd already worked out), but no prescription. And that's fine. Setting and AtmosphereIt is set in "the Reach", a small community of barge-dwellers in London, around 1962. The houseboats are permanently moored; their movement is limited to bobbing up and down on the tide.The residents are very much a community, and yet they have almost nothing in common, other than the fact they are all adrift (even the cat), living in a never-world between land and water - literally, and in a more profound, psychological sense."The barge-dwellers, creatures neither of firm land nor water would have liked to be more respectable than they were... but a certain failure, distressing to themselves, to be like other people, caused them to sink back, with so much else that drifted or was washed up."It vividly conjures the vicissitudes of the sights and sounds of the water and weather, aided by a splattering of boaty jargon. "The river's most elusive hours, when darkness lifts off darkness, and from one minute to another the shadows declare themselves as houses or craft at anchor."Characters"Was there not, on the whole of Battersea Reach, a couple, married or unmarried, living together in the ordinary way?" All the characters are Characters. As are the five boats. 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. The main characters are Nenna (only 32, but with daughters Martha, 12, and Tilda, 6); Maurice, a young gay man making ends meet as a prostitute; Willis, an old marine painter, whose boat is in need of sprucing up; boat-proud Woodrow (Woodie); and Richard, a natural leader, ex-navy, now working in insurance, with the biggest, smartest boat. All have troubles of some sort, though Nenna's are most evident. She's depressed and has other vague mental health issues. When she's alone, her thoughts "took the form of a kind of perpetual magistrates' hearing", perpetually having to defend her action and inaction regarding her marriage. Meanwhile, she is over-reliant on her daughters, who no longer attend school. Her "character was faulty, but she had an instinct to see what made other people unhappy". Tilda is perhaps the least convincing character, which is a shame, as it could be fixed by making her 10, rather than 6. Growing up in the Reach, she is understandably fascinated by and knowledgeable about the river. She "had the air of something aquatic, a demon from the depths", and "respected the water and knew that one could die within sight of the Embankment". But her language and insight don't always sound right: "Do you think Ma's mind is weakening?" and "It's not the kind who inherit the earth... They get kicked in the teeth". In contrast, Martha is "armed at all points against the possible disappointments of her life, conscious of the responsibilities of protecting her mother and sister, worried a the gaps in her education... she had forgotten for some time the necessity for personal happiness."Plot Summary(view spoiler)[Nenna often chats long into the night with Maurice, but there is a frisson between her and Richard. Willis' barge (Dreadnaught) sinks, though he escapes, and is put up by Woodie. Eventually, Nenna plucks up courage to visit her husband, Edward. He's a wastrel, recently returned from a failed attempt to make money in South America, and won't come to the boat. (Meanwhile, Martha gets friendly with a 16-year old German, Heinrich, staying for 24 hours, as a friend of a friend of Nenna's sister.) She hoped to spend the night and win him back, but things don't go well, and she walks home, where Richard is waiting (his wife, Laura, has recently left him properly) and takes her out in a dinghy, before returning to the Reach. We later discover they did go into a cabin together. Meanwhile, Laura's wealthy sister is over from Canada, and wants to take her and the girls to start a new life there. But Richard is attacked by Harry, an acquaintance of Maurice (who uses Maurice's boat to store stolen goods) and is severely injured. His wife comes back to take care of him. Meanwhile, Edward comes looking for Nenna, but ends up drinking with Maurice, before trying to board Nenna's barge (she's not in, because of the storm) and possibly falling into the cold and turbulent waters.(hide spoiler)]Then it ends! I like untidy, open endings, but this was SO open, I was aghast. (view spoiler)[Do Edward and Maurice survive? Does Richard stay with Laura? Do Nenna and the girls go to Canada, and if not, do she and Richard have a chance, or even she and Edward? Will Harry be caught, and if so, what are the implications for Maurice (if he lived)? What about the homeless and penniless Willis - he surely can't go on living with Woodie? (hide spoiler)]Quotes* "That crucial moment when children realise that their parents are younger than they are."* The advantages of youth, "Tilda cared nothing for the future, and had, as a result, a great capacity for happiness." Also, "Her heart didn't rule her memory... she was spared that inconvenience."* A petty criminal "had no expression, as though expressions were surplus to requirements."* "Tenderly responsive to the self-deception of others, he was unfortunately too well able to understand his own."* "Martha bruised so easily. A princess, unknown to all about her, she awaited the moment when these bruises would reveal her heritage."* "Many enterprises in Chelsea which survived entirely by selling antiques to each other."* A man, propositioning a woman on a street, "smelled of loneliness".* "The kind of man who has two clean handkerchiefs on him at half past three in the morning."* "She would go with him to the end of the world if his outboard motor was always going to start like that." ;)* A young German (ex) aristocrat had "an upbringing designed to carry him through changes of regime and frontier, possible loss of every worldly possession... had made him totally self-contained and able with the sunny smile and formal handshake of the gymnast to set almost anybody at their ease."* "The ship's cat was in every way appropriate for the Reach. She habitually moved in a kind of nautical crawl... Through years of attempting to lick herself clean, for she had never quite lost her self-respect, Stripey had become as thickly coated with mud inside as out. She was in a perpetual process of readjustment... to tides and seasons... The resulting uncertainty as to whether she was coming or going had made her, to some extent, mentally unstable."More Fitzgerald?Given how much I loved this, I was excited to pick up The Blue Flower (see my review HERE). It couldn't have been more different. I had to force myself to finish it. Nevertheless, this was so good, I will give Fitzgerald another chance. One day. And there is a growing tide of support among my GR friends for The Bookshop, which - apart from its bookish appeal - sounds much closer to this.