Offshore ペーパーバック – 1988/9/28
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Penelope Fitzgerald's Booker Prize-winning novel set among the houseboat community of the Thames. `Offshore' is a dry, genuinely funny novel, set among the houseboat community who rise and fall with the tide of the Thames on Battersea Reach. Living between land and water, they feel as if they belong to neither... Maurice, a male prostitute, is the sympathetic friend to whom all the others turn. Nenna loves her husband but can't get him back; her children run wild on the muddy foreshore. She feels drawn to Richard, the ex-RNVR city man whose converted minesweeper dominates the Reach. Is he sexually attractive because he can fold maps the right way? With this and other questions waiting to be answered, `Offshore' offers a delightful glimpse of the workings of an eccentric community.
Praise for Penelope Fitzgerald and `Offshore': `An astonishing book. 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. "Offshore" is a marvellous achievement: strong, supple, humane, ripe, generous and graceful.' Bernard Levin, Sunday Times `She writes the kind of fiction in which perfection is almost to be hoped for, unostentatious as true virtuosity can make it, its texture a pure pleasure.' Frank Kermode, London Review of Books `Perfectly balanced...the novelistic equivalent of a Turner watercolour.' Washington Post `Reading a Penelope Fitzgerald novel is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality - the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence. Then, after a mile or so, someone throws the steering-wheel out of the window.' Sebastian Faulks `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商品の説明をすべて表示する
What resonates on each subsequent skimming or reading is the subtle, brilliant way Fitzgerald portrays the novel's tight-knit community as, fundamentally, an unorthodox family. Set in the early 1960s, the story is surprisingly autobiographical (something I didn't know when I'd first read it); Fitzgerald, too, lived on an old barge on the Thames for two years with her three children. Although her heroine, Nenna, is a decade younger than the author had been during her river years, and here there are two children rather than three, it can be disarming to understand that this truly odd assortment of characters has been transformed from real life.
At times, the two girls (as precocious as children are in all of Fitzgerald's novels) steal the show. Their quips are frequently childish and clever all at once: "I hate very old toys," retorts six-year-old Tilda. "They may have been alright for very old children." Observant and acrobatic river rats, both girls are religiously absent from school and instead get their "education" from their surroundings, exhibiting a maturity often lacking in the neighbors. Among the adults is a rentboy named Maurice, whose illicit, "professional" activities are complicated by his allowing his boat to be used for the transfer of stolen goods. Sam, an elderly painter, is trying to sell his boat and would appreciate it, thank you very much, if his neighbors wouldn't mention the leak to prospective buyers. Richard, the unofficial leader of the bunch, owns the only shipshape vessel and lives apart from his wife, who detests life on the river. Richard's situation mirrors that of Nenna, whose inept, unemployable husband also lives apart from his family and who wants her to sell the damn boat and end this bizarre display of independence: "It's not for me to come for you, it's for you to get rid of it. I'm not quarreling about money. If you don't want to sell it, why can't you rent it out?"
There is in fact a plot, and all the pieces come together, almost tragically and yet entertainingly in a madcap climax. But the real focuses of the book are the erstwhile network of friends that forms on the river and the assertion of responsibility (or, in some cases, the lack of it) by each of the main characters. This is a book that pays rereading; it's both funnier and more heartrending the second time out.
Page after page, this is a miraculous book, miraculous in its genial understanding of character, doubly miraculous in its powers of description. For example, the effect of the rising tide: "On every barge on the Reach a very faint ominous tap, no louder than the door of a cupboard shutting, would be followed by louder ones from every strake, timber and weatherboard, a fusillade of thunderous creaking, and even groans that seemed human. The crazy old vessels, riding high in the water without cargo, awaited their owners' return." Or the description of Stripey, the James children's mud-encrusted cat: "The ship's cat was in every way appropriate to the Reach. She habitually moved in a kind of nautical crawl, with her stomach close to the deck, as though close-furled and ready for dirty weather."
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. But her remaining eight books -- all short, all astonishingly different -- take a more subtle tack. Whether based on her own life (including OFFSHORE and her other Booker nomination, THE BOOKSHOP) or set in distant times and places (pre-Revolutionary Moscow in THE BEGINNING OF SPRING, Goethe's Germany in THE BLUE FLOWER), they all share a sense of slightly sad comedy. So it is with OFFSHORE. Miracle-worker though she is, Fitzgerald eschews the easy miracle of a neatly sewn-up ending. The reader is left to imagine a consequence in which each of these lives moves forward into a new phase, perhaps happy, perhaps less so. But the close community of the opening has broken up. Writing in 1979, Fitzgerald sets the book in 1962, during the brief flowering of "swinging London," after which everything would change. Though no more than a faint background presence, she is extraordinarily sensitive to the pathos of impermanence. And she paints these lives lived on the margins of the tides with both a smile and a tear for their inherent unstability.