The Offing by Benjamin Myers
Published By Bloomsbury
Available online and from all good bookshops.
What’s it all about?
One summer following the Second World War, Robert Appleyard sets out on foot from his Durham village. Sixteen and the son of a coal miner, he makes his way across the northern countryside until he reaches the former smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. There he meets Dulcie, an eccentric, worldly, older woman who lives in a ramshackle cottage facing out to sea.
Staying with Dulcie, Robert’s life opens into one of rich food, sea-swimming, sunburn and poetry. The two come from different worlds, yet as the summer months pass, they form an unlikely friendship that will profoundly alter their futures.
What I Say:
“And that is what matters. I was living the life I wanted to live, and still am, despite this thing that eats away inside of me: a disease called time.”
This is my first official blog post since my self imposed Summer Break. I have done video reviews a plenty, but I knew at some point, that I needed to start writing again, to leave some trace of my reading journey on my tiny piece of the Internet.
I realised that it would have to be a genuinely special novel that would spark my need to tell you all about it in a post, to reinvigorate my mission to continue to document my reading and tell you all about books I love.
The Offing is that novel.
Set in the years after the Second World War, Robert Appleyard decides that he needs to spend some time away from his life in Durham, before he inevitably follows the path his family has set, and becomes a miner. As he wends his way through the countryside, relishing in the peace of a world that constantly engages and surprises him, we follow his journey through the natural world that seems so far removed from the world he has left behind and the uncertainty of a world still recovering from the noise and chaos of a war.
Robert’s journey through the countryside is slow and measured, taking in and appreciating the sights and sounds of nature, as he grudgingly realises that this might be the last chance he has to appreciate the world around him before he is resigned to a life of hard work and familial duty.
As he approaches Robin Hood’s Bay, he stumbles upon a ferocious looking dog, a tired and dilpapdated cottage, and a force of nature called Dulcie Piper. Dulcie is a woman who has retreated from society and spends her days in her cottage making the best of what she has in the post war era. The thing is, Dulcie has an amazing array of food and drink that she seems to have ‘acquired’ in a number of rather unorthodox ways.
It is clear from the very first time they meet that Dulcie is a woman who lives by her rules and is not deterred by anyone’s opinions of her or how she has chosen to live her life. Her passion for life and never ending anecdotes are just what Robert needs, and little by little, their friendship starts to form, as each realises that they now have a real chance to live the life they want rather than the one that has been forced upon them.
Dulcie recognises that within Robert there lies a young man who does not want to follow the path his family wants him to, that he is an intelligent and thoughtful boy who has to hide his dreams of gaining an education so that he does not disappoint them or impact on his ability to earn them money in a time where wages and prospects are uncertain.
Robert also sees that in Dulcie, she has lived a life that is full and passionate, but that she is hiding something that is so deeply ingrained that she is unable to articulate the pain she feels in holding onto the past, and more especially about the love of her life.
Little by little, Robert and Dulcie start to open up to each other, and the summer is spent with the two characters easing into their friendship. Dulcie provides the food, wine and hair raising stories, Robert works the land and carries out the never ending house repairs to help Dulcie regain control of her cottage and the studio where Robert is staying.
Dulcie opens Robert’s eyes to the worlds of possibility and learning that are waiting for him, if only he is brave enough to have the confidence in himself to stand up for what he truly wants.
Benjamin Myers has created a time and place where two seemingly unconnected people find a bond that will endure forever. He portrays a tender and caring relationship between Dulcie and Robert, always believable and perfectly paced, as we see both characters develop through the novel, becoming more at ease with each other, and without realising it, holding the key to each other’s happiness.
The prose and language is languid and beguiling, you feel the warmth of the sun, the changing seasons, the seemingly never ending battle against nature, but you are also aware that we are constantly at the mercy of it. I loved the way in which we, like Robert, become totally immersed in Dulcie’s world, that this little bubble becomes our safe haven away from the grim realities of a time which was shattered by the loss of a way of life many had taken for granted.
The Offing is a meaningful title for a number of reasons – it is at its most basic definition, the place where the sea meets the sky, but it is also the title of a work of a German poet called Romy Landau – the woman who stayed with Dulcie before Robert, and who it transpires was Dulcie’s lover. For me, The Offing was also the tantalising notion of possibility, that we may believe our destinies are set in stone, but that by meeting the right person at the right time, our lives can be changed for the better – however scary it may seem.
This is the first novel by Benjamin Myers that I have read, and I now want to read his other work too. In The Offing, he has written a tender and thoughtful novel, one that completely absorbed me and made me think about the path I had chosen in life too. I wonder if I had been lucky enough to meet a woman like Dulcie, where would I be now?
The Offing is not a lengthy novel, but it has a massive heart. Following Robert’s example of realising that life is too short, it gave me the confidence to put myself forward for something I really wanted to do. It might not happen, but at least I tried, and won’t wonder what if?
A book has to be a pretty special novel to provoke that kind of reaction – and The Offing really is.
I loved it.
Thank you to Philippa Cotton at Bloomsbury for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.