|I think these may be the wrong kind of|
boats, but the picture conveys the
feel of the setting better than
the pretty edition I own
Richard kind of steals the show for me. In some ways he is the archetype former military character that pops up so frequently in British popular culture. Doesn't there always seem to be a fussy colonel or major tucked away somewhere in so many books? And it is no surprise that the control freak in the book is the one that appeals to me. Sure I was touched by single(ish) mom Nenna and amused by her lively, resourceful daughters Martha and Tilda. And yes, Maurice the rent boy was as amusing as he was tragic (although I unfortunately kept picturing John Inman from "Are You Being Served"). Compared to the others, Richard's demons and desires seem much less dramatic, but set against his own reality they are no less consequential. Here Fitzgerald introduces us to Richard:
All the meetings of the boat-owners, by a movement as natural as the tides themselves, took place on Richard's converted Ton class minesweeper. Lord Jim, a felt reproof to amateurs, in speckless, always-renewed gray paint, overshadowed the other craft and was nearly twice their tonnage, Just as Richard, in his decent dark blue blazer, dominated the meeting itself. And yet he by no means wanted this responsibility. Living on Battersea Reach, overlooked by some very good houses, and under the surveillance of the Port of London Authority, entailed, surely, a certain standard of conduct. Richard would be one of the last men on earth or water to want to impose it. Yet someone must. Duty is what no-one else will do at the moment. Fortunately he did not have to define duty. War service in the RNVR, and his whole temperament before and since, had done that for him.And from time to time Richard's inability to cope with anything but the most straightforward and linear makes him seem a little vulnerable. There are repeated, rather humorous references to his need to block out anything extraneous to his line of thought at any given moment.
On the whole, he disliked comparisons, because they made you think about more than one thing at a time.Offshore is by no means Richard's story. Nenna is really the focus of the book. And the other characters are more than just bit players. Fitzgerald packs a lot into a short book. Compared to other Fitzgeralds I have read, I think Offshore is less introspective and more accessible than The Bookshop but defintely more emotionally sophisticated than Human Voices. Not surprising that this is the one that won her the Booker Prize.