I read this book, written by Penelope Fitzgerald, entirely because it was mentioned in the Tournament of Books commentary last year:

[A book that casts a spell] that comes to mind for me is Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald. It works a different kind of magic than what I believe Judge Muhammad is referring to in The Idiot—but the lingering effect is something akin to that, I think. It’s an elegantly crafted jewelry box of a book: Nearly every line is sure-footed and masterful. It evokes an entire, vanished world and characters that have remained with me. I read it last summer over several days at the beach and savored it….

9780544361515.jpgI’m not sure I found this book to be magical, but certainly it does evoke a vanished world and the characters have stayed with me. Although the book is very slim, it packs power in its sparse story line.

I will be honest, I totally forgot when I got this out of the library why I had requested it and what it was about, so I briefly thought this was some kind of science fiction book with sentient boats based on the opening (for the record, I would read that book too):

‘Are we to gather that Dreadnought is asking us all to do something dishonest?” Richard asked.

Dreadnought nodded, glad to have been understood so easily.

“Just as a means of making a sale. It seems the only way round my problem. If all present wouldn’t mind agreeing not to mention my main leak, or rather not to raise the question of my main leak, unless direct inquires are made.”

“Do you in point of fact want us to say that Dreadnought doesn’t leak?” asked Richard patiently.

“That would be putting it too strongly.”

Really, this is the story of a group of people who live on houseboats on the Thames and a few weeks of their lives. Richard is ex-navy and as a result cannot give up the habit of referring to the owners by the names of their boats. This leads to the funniest part of the book, because Maurice having noted this, changes his boat’s name to The Maurice.

The rest of the book, not so funny — Richard is in a slightly unhappy marriage as his wife does not appreciate living the boat life as much as he does. Nenna’s husband also doesn’t want to live on a boat, and so she and her daughters are kind of making it work, and he’s left their family. There’s not really too much to the plot for 90% of the book, although things do come to a bit of a madcap “tragi-farce” ending.

If you enjoy being swept up in the characters and the day-to-day, you’ll enjoy this book.

Also recently read The Happiest Baby on the Block — I’ll have to let you know later if that one pans out as useful…

Currently reading: How to Raise a Boy and The Great Believers (finished The Mars Room)