Winner of the Booker Prize
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 occupation a male prostitute, by happenstance a receiver of stolen goods. And Richard, a buttoned-up ex-navy man whose boat dominates the Reach. Then there is Nenna, a faithful but abandoned wife, the diffident mother of two young girls running wild on the waterfront streets.
It is Nenna's domestic predicament that, as it deepens, draws the relations among this scrubby community together into ever more complex and comic patterns. The result is one of Fitzgerald's greatest triumphs, a novel the Booker judges deemed "flawless."
"A marvelous achievement: strong, supple, humane, ripe, generous, and graceful." --Sunday Times
I'm still working my way through the novelists who appear in Through the Window, Julian Barnes' splendid collection of essays. This month I've read two novellas by Penelope Fitzgerald. Human Voices (out of print, sadly) is set in the BBC during the Second World War, and Offshore in the community of houseboat dwellers on the tidal Thames at Battersea Reach. Fitzgerald has the gift of making you feel like you are watching a story unfold, as though a fly on the wall, and the writing is superb - to be taken slowly or you'll miss the jokes. Goodness knows how it can have taken me this long to find Penelope Fitzgerald, and I still wouldn't have, were it not for Mr Barnes. - Tim
'An astonishing book. 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. "Offshore" is a marvellous achievement: strong, supple, humane, ripe, generous and graceful.' Bernard Levin, Sunday Times 'She writes the kind of fiction in which perfection is almost to be hoped for, unostentatious as true virtuosity can make it, its texture a pure pleasure.' Frank Kermode, London Review of Books 'Perfectly balanced!the novelistic equivalent of a Turner watercolour.' Washington Post 'Fitzgerald is adept at evoking the atmosphere of late 1960's London with rich period detail' Elizabeth Day, Observer
Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. Three of her novels, The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the 'Book of the Year'. It won America's National Book Critics' Circle Award, and this helped to introduce her to a wider international readership. She died in April 2000, at the age of eighty-three.