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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…..

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