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Offshore ()

Booker Prize Winners (1979)

Penelope Fitzgerald, though she did not publish her first novel until she was sixty, had, by the time she died this year, become one of England's most awarded and revered authors.  Critics describe her as a miniaturist, by which they apparently mean that her novels are small sketches of particular aspects of life.  Offshore, for which she won her first Booker Prize, is a good example of this form.  Based in part on her time spent living on a barge in the Thames, the novel tells the story of a brief period in the lives of a group of eccentrics who live aboard ship in Battersea Reach on the Thames.  Actually, it only barely tells a story, it is more an exercise in establishing characters and a setting than anything else.

In order for this to work, you either have to have fascinating characters or a spellbinding setting, she has neither.  At first, as you're reading, she seems about to update Our Mutual Friend (see Orrin's review), with it's central theme of people, on the margins of society, living on and off of London's great waterway.  But where Dickens creates unforgettable characters and plops them down in a labyrinthine plot, these characters are only mildly amusing and there's virtually no plot.  The other author who sprang to mind is Joseph Mitchell, the great New Yorker essayist whose works are collected in Up In The Old Hotel.  He was a master at crafting portraits that were small masterpieces around the bums and lunatics of New York City, but there are no Joe Goulds in Offshore.

This is a quick enough read (my copy is just 141 pages) and there's a periodic chuckle, but I found it difficult to care about the characters and am mystified by the book's reputation.  One of the obituaries below refers to Ms Fitzgerald's "remarkable sensitivities."  I am perfectly willing to concede that I am a man of severely limited sensitivities and so the fault for my not enjoying the book may well lie with me.


Grade: (C-)


Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : Your search: "penelope fitzgerald"
    -BIO: Penelope Fitzgerald (xrefer)
    -OBIT: Late-starting author whose novels displayed her remarkable sensitivities and range of erudition  (May 3, 2000, Times of London)
    -OBIT: Penelope Fitzgerald dies at 83 : The award-winning author of "The Blue Flower" published her first book in 1975. (Salon)
    -OBIT: Austen's literal air dies (THE DAILY TELEGRAPH)
    -OBIT: Lauded British author Penelope Fitzgerald dies (May 3, 2000, KRISTIN GAZLAY, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -About Penelope Fitzgerald (Houghton Mifflin)
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: Penelope Fitzgerald (NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Notes from a Small Island : on The Country of the Pointed Firs by  Sarah Orne Jewett (Penelope Fitzgerald,
    -BOOK LIST : "This is it!"  : The author of "The Blue Flower" picks five novels that rocked her world. (Penelope Fitzgerald, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of THE INVENTION OF TRUTH By Marta Morazzoni (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FORD MADOX FORD By Alan Judd (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of C. S. LEWIS A Biography. By A. N. Wilson (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE PILGRIM'S RULES OF ETIQUETTE By Taghi Modarressi  (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of COLERIDGE Darker Reflections, 1804-1834. By Richard Holmes (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE ULTIMATE INTIMACY By Ivan Klima  (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE MAD DOG Stories. By Heinrich Boll (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of REALITY AND DREAMS By Muriel Spark (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of BLAKE By Peter Ackroyd (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LONDON By John Russell (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE FOLLOWING STORY By Cees Nooteboom (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of EXCURSIONS IN THE REAL WORLD Memoirs. By William Trevor (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE DEATH OF NAPOLEON By Simon Leys (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of EVELYN WAUGH The Later Years 1939-1966. By Martin Stannard (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ANTONIA WHITE Diaries 1926-1957: Volume One. Edited by Susan Chitty (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE KELMSCOTT PRESS A History of William Morris's Typographical Adventure. By William S. Peterson (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE MEMOIR OF MARCO PARENTI A Life in Medici Florence. By Mark Phillip (Penelope Fitzgerald, NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW: The Bloom Is On the Penelope Fitzgerald (Nicholas A. Basbanes, Lit Kit)
    -INTERVIEW: High Spirits : The great Penelope Fitzgerald on poltergeists, plots, and past masters (
    -INTERVIEW: Of prizes, men and red-hot pokers : At 82, Penelope Fitzgerald is the first non-American to win a United States national critics' prize. She spoke to Peter Lennon (ZA Books)
    -ARCHIVES: "penelope fitzgerald" (NY Review of Books)
    -Celebrating Penelope Fitzgerald (Raised Roof)
    -ESSAY : Shelved Dreams in Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop (Pamela St. Clair, Suite
    -ESSAY: The Shock of the Old  Penelope Fitzgerald and the Art of Surprise (Ariel Swartley, LA Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald ( Barbara Fisher Williamson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (Kerry Reid,
    -REVIEW : of THE KNOX BROTHERS By Penelope Fitzgerald & THE MEANS OF ESCAPE: Stories By Penelope Fitzgerald (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Blue Flower (Michael Hofmann, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Richard Holmes: Paradise in a Dream , NY Review of Books
       The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
    -REVIEW: of THE BLUE FLOWER by Penelope Fitzgerald  (Fin Keegan, Second Circle)
    -REVIEW: Gabriele Annan: Letting Go, NY Review of Books
       Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice by A.S. Byatt
       Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald
    -REVIEW: of Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald (Kristin Soprony, History Net)
    -REVIEW: of Human Voices (SYLVIA BROWNRIGG , Salon)
    -REVIEW: of The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald (Harriet Klausner, Book Browser)
    -REVIEW: of The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (Robert Weibezahl, Book Page)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEW: of Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald (Coulehan, Jack, Medical Humanities)
    -REVIEWS: of Penelope Fitzgerald books (Ray Walker,  Guilford, VT)
    -BOOK LIST : What children know : The editor of the Threepenny Review selects her five favorite novels about childhood. (Wendy Lesser, Salon)
    -BOOK LIST : Other Pasts, Other Places : The author of "Possession" recommends five unforgettable historical novels. (A.S. BYATT, Salon)
    -AWARDS: Booker Prize for Fiction 1979 : Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (Booker)

    -Booker PLC
    -ESSAY: The Super Bowl of Fiction (EVA HOFFMAN, NY Times)