Offshore (novel)

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First edition
Author Penelope Fitzgerald
Cover artist George Murray
Country United Kingdom
Genre Fiction
Publisher HarperCollins
Publication date
Pages 141 pages
ISBN 0-395-47804-9
OCLC 38043106

Offshore (1979) is a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. It won the Booker Prize for that year.[1] It recalls her time spent on boats in Battersea by the Thames. The novel explores the concept of liminality and 'liminal people'; those who do not belong to the land or the sea, but somewhere in-between. The epigraph, "che mena il vento, e che batte la pioggia, e che s'incontran con si aspre lingue" (whom the wind drives, or whom the rain beats, or those who clash with such bitter tongues) comes from Canto XI of Dante's Inferno.

List of Characters and Their Boats (in order)[edit]

Lord Jim

  • Richard Blake, husband (39 yrs old).
  • Laura Blake, wife (aka. Lollie).


  • Maurice.
  • Harry (Maurice's acquaintance, though he doesn't live on-board).


  • Nenna James, mother.
  • Martha James, Nenna's teenage daughter.
  • Tilda (Matilda) James, Nenna's younger daughter (6 yrs old).
  • Edward James (estranged father and husband; never lives on-board).
  • Stripey (the cat).


  • Willis (65 yrs old; painter, widower).


  • Woodie, husband.
  • Janet, wife (actually lives ashore).

Plot Summary[edit]

The novel is set in London in the early- to mid-1960s. When Edward takes a job overseas, his wife Nenna stays behind in London. With no job, little income and an absentee husband, she resorts to living in a houseboat on the Thames. There she and her daughters are surrounded by a supportive group of like-minded bohemian boat-dwellers. Their houseboats reflect their personalities, ranging from carefully maintained to nearly derelict.

Edward returns to London but refuses to live with Nenna. Unable to confront her marital problems and infatuated with Richard, Nenna drifts through her days as her prosperous and energetic sister tries to persuade her to move to Canada for the sake of her two daughters. Matters become complicated when Willis' boat sinks unexpectedly, Laura leaves Richard and Nenna finally confronts Edward.

Critical Reception[edit]

  • Review, The New York Times Book Review [2]
  • Review, The Independent[3]
  • Review, The Guardian [4]

Other Works[edit]

Booker Prize Recipients[edit]

Preceded by
The Sea, the Sea
Booker Prize recipient
Succeeded by
Rites of Passage


  1. ^ "The Booker Prize 1979". The Man Booker Prizes. The Booker Prize Foundation. Retrieved 10 August 2015. 
  2. ^ Williamson, Barbara Fisher. "Quiet Lives Afloat". New York Times on the Web. New York Times. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Sturges, Fiona. "Book Review: Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald". The Independent. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  4. ^ Day, Elizabeth. "Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2015.