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There was never a minesweeper, but there was a torpedo boat, which has long gone from Chelsea but is apparently still intact and being made seaworthy again.

Some of the people appear rather normal to high functioning in this 1960s world (Richard) while others appear to be near drowning as they try to find a way to survive (Nenna, Maurice, Willis) while Nenna's daughters Tilda and Martha are caught somewhere in between. In his Understanding Penelope Fitzgerald (2004), Peter Wolfe characterised the novel as "a pocket epic, packing into 141 pages the piecemeal dissolution of a way of life". Indeed the character who gets the most space is the smallest; the very bright six-year old Tilda shines like the brasses on her mother's barge, and is one of the anchors of this unusual narrative.Hardly more than 50,000 words, it is written with a manic economy that makes it seem even shorter, and with a tamped-down force that continually explodes in a series of exactly controlled detonations. Maurice, a male prostitute, and receiver of stolen goods has become particularly good friends with Nenna, who abandoned by her husband is living on the boat Grace with her two daughters Martha and Tilda. When Nenna finally makes an expedition outside the hinterland of the Boats, it seems she may have been right not to try it before. I loved the way that, near the beginning, a guided tour is overheard describing the boats as an "artist's colony" - although in fact only one resident is an artist, as is so very much the way with real-life bohemias I've encountered.

Everything is of top quality - the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence. How the market for a marine painter has dwindled since the 1920s and 30s: "After the war the number of readers who would laugh at pictures of seasick passengers, or bosuns getting the better of the second mate, diminished rapidly. Meanwhile, Laura's wealthy sister is over from Canada, and wants to take her and the girls to start a new life there. I can’t turn over The Times so that the pages lie flat, I can’t fold up a map in the right creases, I can’t draw corks, I can’t drive in nails straight, I can’t. For example, the effect of the rising tide: "On every barge on the Reach a very faint ominous tap, no louder than the door of a cupboard shutting, would be followed by louder ones from every strake, timber and weatherboard, a fusillade of thunderous creaking, and even groans that seemed human.

I suppose that she met the author's task--she fully engaged this reader and pulled me into the story. armed at all points against the possible disappointments of her life, conscious of the responsibilities of protecting her mother and sister, worried a the gaps in her education. Offshore, the 1997 Booker Prize winner, is set in the 60's, the perfect time period for these water dwellers who are quietly defying conventional life off the shore of the hip area of Chelsea.

Meanwhile Nenna’s decisive and wealthy sister Louise has arrived from Canada to take charge of Nenna’s life, as she considers Nenna has shown herself incapable of doing so. It had glowing reviews and Fitzgerald was quite recently celebrated with a reissue of this and her other Booker-nominated works. But Martha, small and thin, with dark eyes which already showed an acceptance of the world’s shortcomings, was not like her mother and even less like her father. By the middle, I started to get a little bored with them and to think, wrongly, that having established her cast, the author was drifting on the ebb tide with little plot in mind. It’s a fairly sparse novel populated by a group of fairly run down eccentrics and despite its brevity moves at a gentle pace.When Nenna finally reaches the house no-one answers the bell, but she is eventually let in by a man who turns up and who she learns is Gordon, a friend of Edward whom she had apparently met but has forgotten. He ekes out a precarious living as a male prostitute, bringing back men most evenings from the nearby pub, and allowing his boat to be used for the storage of stolen goods by his shadowy acquaintance, Harry. Meanwhile, Edward comes looking for Nenna, but ends up drinking with Maurice, before trying to board Nenna's barge (she's not in, because of the storm) and possibly falling into the cold and turbulent waters. The journey is much more difficult than it would be now, and Stoke Newington seems obscure and remote from “real” London.

There is such a sense of place in this story that I felt like I had actually spent some time at Battersea Reach by the end of the book.

And just as every denizen of Battersea Reach is battling the leaks just to stay afloat, so too they constantly struggle not to be overwhelmed by life and love and the vagaries of the postal service. Living on those dilapidated houseboats, neither out at sea nor on the land but stuck between, these resilient personalities are not to be pitied. Their self-appointed chairman is a super-shipshape ex-Naval officer living on a converted minesweeper. I'm well-educated and I've got two children and I can manage pretty well, there's a number of much more essential things I know how to do, but I can't do those ones, and when they come up I feel like weeping myself sick. Or the description of Stripey, the James children's mud-encrusted cat: "The ship's cat was in every way appropriate to the Reach.

  • Fruugo ID: 258392218-563234582
  • EAN: 764486781913
  • Sold by: Fruugo

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