Offshore – definitely not wowed yet

Have read more than half of Offshore, the novel by Penelope Lively that won the Booker prize in 1979. And so far I am underwhelmed.

The plot line sounded as if it would have a lot of potential – the story is set among a community who live on boats at Battersea Reach; a location that puts them in a form of watery limbo.  Floating with the rise and fall of the Thames tide, they are neither part of the land nor totally part of the water. Some of the characters we meet are similarly  at an in-between stage of their lives. We discover Nenna, the mother of two girls, is living apart from her husband unsure whether she wants him back and Maurice, a male prostitute, exists on the edge of criminality. There is also  a dutiful businessman with a bored, mutinous wife, knows he should be landlocked but remains drawn to the muddy Thames.  They are all adrift in some way.

Problem is that the narrative style robs the story of any real vitality. The dialogue at times is plain dull. Here is an example from the early pages:

“Where did you get your guernsey?”

Both women wore the regulation thick Navy blue sailing sweaters, with a split half inch at the bottom of each side seam. Nenna had rolled up her sleeves in the warmth of the snug, showing round forearms covered with fine golden hair.

“I got mine at the cut price place at the end of the Queenstown Road.”

“It’s not as thick as mine.”

According to the blurb on the cover, the Observer considered Offshore to be ‘a novel of crisp originality, lucid and expressive with some splendid bursts of satire.’  So far I’d say it scores null points on all fronts. I can’t imagine why it won the Booker prize, especially since it was up against such a weighty shortlist contender from V S Naipaul in the form of The Bend in the River.  Offshore’s one redeeming quality at the moment it that is it very short…..


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

5 thoughts on “Offshore – definitely not wowed yet

  • February 18, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Interesting that you give an example of a typically amusing bit of dialogue and call it ‘dull’. On that basis you ought to try Evelyn Waugh, who’s even duller.

    • February 18, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      I suppose one person’s amusement is another person’s dull Martin. It explains why my husband finds Will Hay films hilarious and I can barely raise a smile.

  • Pingback: Offshore – final thoughts « BookerTalk

  • July 12, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Oh that’s too bad — I thought Penelope Lively was supposed to be good but I will steer clear of this one ….. sounds dull as dish water

    • July 12, 2012 at 6:34 pm

      I was astonished to find she’d been shortlisted for the Booker for two other novels. One was for The Bookshop which I just looked up on Amazon and didn’t much like the sound of. The judges must have seen something in her ….quite what is a mystery to me though.


We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: