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3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  2,247 ratings  ·  273 reviews
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On the Battersea Reach of the Thames, a mixed bag of the slightly disreputable, the temporarily lost, and the patently eccentric live on houseboats, rising and falling with the great river’s tides. Belonging to neither land nor sea, they cling to one another in a motley yet kindly society. There is Maurice, by occ
Paperback, 140 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Harper Perennial (first published 1979)
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Booker Prize Winners
41st out of 49 books — 1,452 voters
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Great Women Authors
281st out of 743 books — 191 voters

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Community Reviews

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An exquisite little novel in which not much happens until the end, and yet, due to storms of all kinds, the whole world of each protagonist changes irrevocably.

Flux, Transition, Contrast, Stagnation
"Reality seemed to have lost its accustomed hold, just as the day wavered uncertainly between night and morning."

Everyone lives between land and water, but each is also caught in some other dichotomy: childhood or adulthood; togetherness or separation; comfort or poverty; in or out of love; life or d
When I was a child, I occasionally watched a TV show, familiar to most British people of my generation, about two puppets who lived on a canal barge called Ragdoll, which seemed homely, safe and jolly. Most people only set foot on a boat for the purpose of pleasure and so imagine life on a barge to be sheer, uninterrupted delight. I have always been drawn to water, and even lived at sea for a while (I was not happy for other reasons, but I was happy to be at sea) But, hopelessly addicted to warm ...more
This is a book of ambivalence, indecision, grayness and beauty, ebb and flow, of living in between. “That liminal uncertainty seeps through the whole book”, says her biographer Hermione Lee. The more you look, the more you find these examples of the liminal zones. They lived neither on land nor water. Nessa was neither Canadian nor English. To decide or not, for ”when you decide, you multiply the things you might have done and now never can.” Nessa is half in love with her husband, the daughter ...more

As some of you may know, a few years ago I set myself the challenge of reading all the books that had ever won the booker prize. I had at that point already read several of them, and so it seemed a fairly achievable list – although I admit there are a few on the list that I don’t fancy much. There was no reason for my doing this – I don’t believe that books that win big prizes are necessarily any more worthy than any others. I do however find it fascinating each year when the Booker long list an
Penelope Fitzgerald spent several years living on a barge on Battersea Reach of the Thames River when her family had financial difficulties. Those experiences--including the sinking of their boat--served as the inspiration for Offshore: A Novel, a short spare novel that won the Booker Prize in 1979.

The book has wonderful characterizations of a group of misfits living on the houseboats. "The barge-dwellers, creatures neither of firm land nor water, would have liked to be more respectable than the
Jan 27, 2014 Alan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
Took me a while to get into this book, not sure why, but when I did and it all clicked I was enchanted. The chapter that did it was the one where Nenna goes to see her estranged husband in north London, an unsuccessful tryst, and loses her way – and her shoes and money – on the way back. She has a near miss with a predatory man (or maybe he’s just lonely) before a cheery taxi driver gives her a lift back (for free) to the boat where she lives with her daughters, and there's an unexpected but ple ...more
Right from the beginning, several interesting, eccentric characters are introduced, and they live in an intriguing, unusual place, houseboats on the Thames. So from the beginning, the stage is set for an engrossing novel by a prestigious author. But for me at least, the book fails to deliver in many ways. (I say "for me at least" because the novel is praised on Goodreads, and it won the Booker Prize in 1979.)

The shortcomings: The plot is obscure and thin, close to nonexistent. Though the relatio
I felt like I was on a bus ride eavesdropping on multiple conversations, each interesting and incomplete. You may not know what will happen to these people – the precocious daughters, their mother who’s emotionally compromised, the responsible man, the intuitive man, and the romantically clueless man – but you’ve had a glimpse of what they’re about, their eccentricities. Despite its short length, you don’t end up feeling short-changed. Part of the appeal for me is the setting. I knew the streets ...more
This is an odd little book, but one that is very compelling. Really, this book should not work - there is an omnipresent narrator (the book is written in the third person) and one of the narrator's comments - about how the boutiques of London would all have changed entirely after a couple of years - destroyed the mood for me almost entirely. The advice of writing books is to have nothing happen that doesn't move the story forward, but we have Heinrich van Furstenfeld's sudden, short appearance. ...more
Penelope Fitzgerald is one of those writers whose books I always think I'm going to like and then find out that I just don't. A few years ago, in a crazed fit of consumption (mostly induced by the pretty covers), I bought several of her books. And every so often, I read one of them and confirm that I'm not a fan. The latest Fitzgerald novel I read was Offshore, since it promised to be quite short. And although I found (some of) the characters quite interesting (particularly the two girls), the n ...more
I had a really hard time getting into this book. I didn't understand some of the language used to describe things and I didn't "get" what it was about. Then I saw in another review that Fitzgerald intended that this was a novel about "liminality". What, you say?!! I saw that it was a stage in a situatin where old forms have dissolved, but new forms have not yet taken shape. From Wikipedia:

During the liminal stage, normally accepted differences between the participants, such as social class, are
Linda Popejoy
This is a very short book - more of a novella, and not particularly plot driven. It took me a little bit to get used to the writer's style but after the adjustment, I quite enjoyed it. The characters were colorful and nuanced, and the writing very compact and evocative. A favorite passage: "Decision is torment for anyone with imagination. When you decide, you multiply the things you might have done and now never can. If there's even one person who might be hurt by a decision, you should never ma ...more
I get it, that Penelope Fitzgerald writes wonderfully subtle prose with this sort of economy and restraint that's like a virtuoso NOT playing notes, but the plot of this one just made it dull and dragging for me. Don't see why this won the Booker. (I probably say that too often to keep reading Booker books, but I'm on a roll, and I do what I want.)
Here again Fitzgerald produces a rabbit out of a battered old hat, using remnants of her own painfully curious lifestyle to produce an elegant bathetic story of a group of castaways adrift on the Thames at Battersea. Literally battered by the sea the characters in Fitzgerald's novel drift on the ebb and flow of the treacherous Thames tides on the periphery of the so called swinging S8xtieß towards an indefinite future. The story moves towards the floodtide with many precursors of disaster and a ...more
Elizabeth Moffat
This was the first novel by Penelope Fitzgerald I have read and as a winner of the Booker prize, I had to check it out. I enjoyed the writing style enormously, it is about a cast of characters that live on the Battersea Reach on the Thames. This includes Maurice a male prostitute, Richard and Laura (the only ones with any money) and Nenna and her two children Martha and Tilda who I absolutely loved. Wise beyond their years the two children often miss school to rummage around in the mud for treas ...more
Penelope Fitzgerald's Offshore is a good book written superbly. It won the Booker Prize in 1979, which was quite the feat considering both VS Naipaul and Thomas Keneally were in the mix. Fitzgerald's book was not, however, something I would call a 'fast read.' At only 180 very short pages with large type, it took me at least a month to get through it. Yes there were other books that had to be read and yes there was schoolwork, but Fitzgerald's book needed time to simmer. Passively glancing over ...more
I told myself that this was the year that I would read all of the Booker Prize winners -- including those I've read at times in that past. Well, here we are at the end of the first quarter and I've read exactly two of the 44 prize winning books. I also have to admit that both of these are among the shortest of the winners. I loved Penelope Lively's "Moon Tiger" so I figured it would be sensible to read another Penelope, Penelope Fitzgerald, in an attempt to catch up a bit.

"Offshore" was less sat
Offshore is set mostly on barges moored along the banks of the Thames in London. As is pointed out by the author, the place where these characters live is between the land and the water, and the idea of it being a place of transition becomes one of the book's themes. This book reminded me strongly of the writings of Muriel Spark -- the writing is straightforward, with little to complain about; the characters are intriguing and well- if not fully developed; and the plot is minimal, although there ...more
Courtney H.
Offshore is a little novel, almost a novella really, that takes place on the Battersea Reach of the Thames and the collection of houseboats – none of which were built to be houseboats, but were repurposed late in their respective lives – stationed there. Not surprisingly, for such an eccentric location, the story concerns the motley crew of eccentric figures who have formed a bit of an outcast society on their boats.
Penelope Fitzgerald hit all the right notes with Offshore. The story is uniqu
Christian Engler
Engossingly sagacious in observance and unremitting in economical prose, Offshore is a sententious written work of art that owes its eloquence to its timeless and picturesque narration as well as its breakneck character development. Like Hemmingway, the late Penelope Fitzgerald carefully chose her diction, framed it beautifully and perspicuously articulated it. Rest assured, readers, there is no verbiage or cluttered wording in this book; each word, sentence, has a clearly defined purpose. Her p ...more
If your a woman drifted and damped by a man either have or not have children. You may read this book. The setting occur at the Thames river where I illustrated as like a squatters area or a haven of 'temporariness'. The story surprises me of how characters intertwine with each other. It talks not the usual family-broken theme but a story of how absurd the feeling of living in a 'barge in unsettling tidal.

The story has a love story of hope and mysteriousness. It may 'flawless' for some reviewers
Lorenzo Berardi

Penelope, oh Penelope!

I'm not sure I know how to explain this...
But, please, let me try once for all.

Well...the thing is that I'm afraid there is something missing between us. Something which is left untold, unwritten, unread. Something that doesn't quite fit in the whole picture of a perfect writer-reader relationship. My impression, Penelope, is that you keep most of your thoughts and emotions for yourself. There's a distance between you and me that I perceive and that I cannot accept.
It's l
Mar 06, 2009 bookczuk rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to bookczuk by: lucybrown
When I first read this book, I wrote, "It is a delicious book. I am in love with it. I savor the words, the characters, the descriptions. I do not want it to end."

When I finished it, I wrote, "Ah yes- I stand by what I said earlier; an enchanting book.

The characters are marvelous- from the very proper ex-navy man Richard, to Maurice-by occupation a male prostitute, by happenstance a receiver of stolen goods, to the very bemused Nenna- trying to sort our her life, to her youngest daughter Tilda w
This is the second Fitzgerald I've read and I have to conclude she doesn't resonate with me. I can see the comparison to Turner paintings. The book is awash in color, emotions, thoughts smeared all together. A few of the characters such as Tilda, the young girl, who's so at home on the water and whom nothing seems to faze, stands out. Some of the adults, such as her parents, need to be throttled though. I wanted to scream at them to `grow up'. Fitzgerald won the Booker for this book so I have to ...more
M. D.  Hudson
I cried a couple of times during this novel. Really, it is lovely. Fitzgerald does human frailty, futility and failure better than anyone anywhere since Flaubert. She never quite pities her characters and she almost always respects them, even the occasional scoundrel. This book is about a bunch of people of varying degree of maladjustment who live on leaky old boats on the Thames. There’s a plot, sort of, but it doesn’t matter. This book is so much better than Ian McEwan’s “Saturday” that he sho ...more
Sam Schulman
This is a better place to start with Penelope Fitzgerald. She makes all other literary fiction seem like the boring, phony sheiss it is. It takes place among the semi-failures who live on boats permanently moored in the Thames, and is not quite too sad to bear.
She is the niece of Father Knox, the first official Catholic padre for Oxford students (I think) and a wonderful writer, the author of the great, infinitely re-readable book Enthusiasm, and a series of books with wonderful titles: The Mass
I read this book twice book and it was so worth it. In the first there were so many characters and boats they they became a bit blurred. But the second time 'round it all came beautifully to life with quite a rich setting and wonderfully eccentric characters The themes of lost opportunities, befuddlement, were also quite apparent this time. The humor is not so striking the second time but I think part of that in the first reading was out of surprise. We have to have the humor though or the grim ...more
Fitzgerald continues to amaze me with her ability to construct such intricate worlds and such deep and imagined characters in such slim books. Set along the Thames in London, the book enters the lives of characters living in decaying barges and trying to find purchase on their lives. If it sounds depressing, it is far from it. It is glorious and familiar, at times hilarious and achingly true.
Great potential - disparate bunch of drifters, living on Thames houseboats. I just COULDN'T care about any of them... very disappointing
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2015: The Year of...: Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald 59 57 Jan 28, 2015 02:11AM  
  • Saville
  • Something to Answer For
  • Holiday
  • The Elected Member
  • The Old Devils
  • The Conservationist
  • G.
  • Rites of Passage (To the Ends of the Earth, #1)
  • Staying On
  • In a Free State
  • How Late It Was, How Late
  • The Siege of Krishnapur (Empire Trilogy, #2)
  • Moon Tiger
  • Heat and Dust
  • Hotel du Lac
  • Last Orders
  • Sacred Hunger
  • The Sea, the Sea
Penelope Fitzgerald was an English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, The Blue Flower, as one of "the ten best historical novels".

Fitzgerald was the author of nine novels. Her novel Offshore was the winner of the Booker Prize. A further three novels — The B
More about Penelope Fitzgerald...
The Bookshop The Blue Flower The Gate of Angels The Beginning of Spring Human Voices

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“Duty is what no-one else will do at the moment.” 18 likes
“There isn’t one kind of happiness, there’s all kinds. Decision is torment for anyone with imagination. When you decide, you multiply the things you might have done and now never can.” 1 likes
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