By Benjamin Myers
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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.Tweet
St Just Thursday Evening Reading Group 1st April 2021.
The Offing. Benjamin Myers.
Most readers were very enthusiastic about this book; one was not. Opinions were generally that it was a powerful, very readable book with a particularly strong sense of place. The vivid pictures of the countryside and the birds and animals were popular, and the characters were thought to be well described and believable. Good contrasts, pleasurable to read, and easy to visualise; comparisons were made with Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, and with Wyl Menmuir’s The Many, as being a “fable with gritty bits of reality within”. Points of particular interest were the idea of setting off to walk indefinitely and without a fixed idea of destination, and whether this could be done in the present day; similarly the custom of working for food and lodging. The specific areas described, with which readers were familiar, were very much appreciated.
However there were a few problems. Several anachronisms were noted by different readers: the remarks about “burning off calories”, a Saudi oil tanker before Saudi Arabia had started producing oil, and dialogue such as “any time soon” or “oh, right”. Also more than one person thought that the atmosphere was more like the 1920s than the 1940s.
The ending of the novel was found by some to be a little romantic and sentimental; and by others to be satisfying. Everyone agreed that the book was very visual, and one reader thought it was perhaps aimed at a film script. Other comments were that Romy’s poems were good to read, the descriptions of the sea were wonderful, and that the author made the reader feel that he “really relished what he was writing”.
One reader was “disappointed”, describing the novel as “weak”; though it had a great deal of potential, the prose wasn’t good enough to really enjoy and didn’t move the plot on sufficiently.
This book was read during March 2021 and the continuing restrictions due to the Covid-19 virus, and so the discussion was not 'live' as usual, but took place via a Facebook group, email and telephone conversations.
The Offing by Benjamin Myers.
Set in the summer following the end of World War II, 16 year old Robert Appleyard sets off on foot from his small mining village in the North East of England. On the coast he meets Dulcie, an eccentric older woman whom he stays with for a while. Their friendship changes his life.
Hunstanworth Village Hall Book Group review: Nine members read this book. They gave it an overall score of 4.5 / 5.
Nearly all the members loved this book, and some would like to have scored it more than 5!
The novel is written in quite lyrical language, with lots of description of the landscape, the seasons, food, the sky. One member described it as “ really a book of poetry, but written as a novel”. As a book group based in the North East ourselves we enjoyed all the local references, even if some members found the early chapters a bit too slow moving. However even they were soon swept up into the story and most people found it difficult to put the book down after that. The writing is very atmospheric and perfectly evokes high summer in the meadows and on the coast.
Members also enjoyed the way in which the book encouraged them to reflect on being both young, and just setting out on life, and on being old, and looking back. We also discussed the pull between freedom, to follow your own wishes and aspirations, and selfishness, in leaving behind those who care for you.
The book is reminiscent of travel writers like Patrick Leigh Fermor and Laurie Lee, and also of the novel “A Year of Marvellous Ways” by Sarah Winman.
Members found both the two main characters intriguing and likeable, and found their friendship and enjoyment of each other’s company believable, despite the difference in their ages. Indeed several members said they would like to end up being Dulcie-like! –perhaps not so surprising given that most of us already live in fairly remote rural locations, and so could easily imagine living in Dulcie’s house on the coast. Although Dulcie seems at first quite hard and secretive, we enjoyed the way we get to see her softer edges as the novel progresses and we learn more of her life story.
Many people planned to re-read the book, and commented on how it repays slow reading, in order to appreciate all the detail in the writing. Some even said it had inspired them to read some poetry, and thought it was “ a good introduction to what poetry could be like”.
Overall we found this book beautifully written and produced, a rewarding read and one with plenty to keep the reader’s interest alive throughout, and with plenty to discuss.
Rating: 9 members read the book. Average score 4.5 / 5
We received copies of the book via Bloomsbury Publishing, and The Reading Agency (with thanks).