Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

Of boats and, what? – Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

After almost a year of reading this, I am still confused whether to like this or not. You have to somehow give the author credit for the sparseness of the text. The book is like a pamphlet; one could use it to swat a hardheaded fly. One could even finish this in a couple of hours, if he is a fast reader.

But after finishing, what? I remember telling one of my bookish friends that the novel ended in a strangely astonishing way. My reaction was, is that it? But I want more! The climax, which is at the last page, didn’t give us a chance to brood about what will happen to the characters. Everything is left up the air.

If this novel were a portrait, it is an unfinished sketch. You see details here and there, the eyes, the nose, but there are a lot of jagged, blurred lines between each. Is that scraggly line a stray hair? Are those dots freckles or rashes? Not the perfect portrait if you are looking for something that looks real, but if you don’t mind inclining your head to one side and find that eureka moment where you get to say you know this, you understand this, by all means, go and read this.

‘Well, I feel unemployed. There’s nothing so lonely as unemployment, even if you’re on a queue with a thousand others. I don’t know what I’m going to think about if I’m not going to worry about him all the time. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my mind.’ A formless melancholy overcame her. ‘I’m not too sure what to do with my body either.’

The novel is about this group of people, some employed and most of them unemployed, who lives in a boating community. If the shores were subdivisions, the boats are the houses. Some are posh, some are decrepit. Really, I only remember one posh boat, which happens to be owned by the community’s leader. Richard?

But he’s not the main character. The novel’s lead is Nenna, an estranged wife with two kids left under her care. It seems that Nenna has a tough time leading her family in this community, what with the meddling of the school administrators with regard to the erratic schooling habits of one of the daughters.

And that is all I can remember as far as details are concerned. We are given a glimpse of the lives of the minor characters, the people of the neighboring boats. But I’d rather not talk about them for I’d rather think about what really goes on in this novel.

I remember that most of the characters are torn between two things. Take the boating community leader: he is torn between his love for the current lifestyle that they have and his wife’s silent protests. So the community is a metaphor in itself; they are on that divide between the land and the sea. The people feel both the persecuting and indifferent land, and the drifting and turbulent sea.

And Nenna? Where is she torn between? She strikes me as someone who doesn’t know what she wants. Does she want her husband back or not? Does she want to leave the kids or not? Does she want a better life or not?

But they are thrown off that shore. The community leader, Nenna, everyone, by this or that. To the land or to the sea, that you have to find out.

3 star - liked itI feel that this writing is just as short as the novel, failing to even meet my self-required 700 words for a sort of review, but I will leave it at that.

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2 thoughts on “Of boats and, what? – Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald”

  1. The way you described the book, it seems that the story is a bit forgettable. But, I must say, that the quote that you included makes me want to read the book. It somehow depicts people who go through the motions of working. Yet, left with the feeling of emptiness and sort of unproductive just because your mind is pre-occupied by another person.

    I’d probably read this book just because of your quote. Hahaha…

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