Date(s) - 31/03/2019
10:30 am - 12:15 pm
Clapham Junction rail station
Author Penelope Fitzgerald only became a writer in her 50s and went on to prove how successful one can be in later life, picking up many awards including the Booker Prize in 1979. We have chosen ‘Offshore‘, her Booker winning novel for or our latest Between The Lines walking book club read and walkshop. Set in the early 1960s, it draws on Penelope Fitzgerald’s own experience of living in poverty on a houseboat on the river Thames.
There is a cast of bohemian characters whose lives have ebbed and flowed; the rise and fall of the river Thames is a metaphor, for lives ill-spent and unfulfilled; as Fitzgerald wrote a ‘sodden, melancholy, and yet enduring spirit of the Reach’. The houseboat named ‘Grace’ is a central element of the novel as is the Thames, they are almost characters in themselves.
Penelope Fitzgerald moved into a houseboat named ‘ Grace’ in the early 1960s, after her husband was debarred from the law for theft, and their meagre savings dwindled. They lived on the houseboat for two or three years before it sank, taking with it most of their possessions. The stretches of the Thames where the novel is set and where her houseboat was moored are far more chichi than they were in the 1960s, although one is under threat by developers who want to remove the moorings for further gentrification.
40 years ago the Booker winner was thought to be a foregone conclusion, so much so that journalists had already ‘filed’ their stories at to why V. S. Naipaul’s novel ‘The Bend in the River‘ was a such a worthy winner. That at the last moment, the judges chose ‘Offshore’ as the winner, meant that Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel was harshly criticised and she came in for considerable unsavoury press attention.
Her own life story makes heady reading, not least her relationship with her estranged husband, the uproar after the Booker, and for coming later to writing literary fiction. The novel is long on description and light on action, but that’s to our benefit as we will explore the environs in which she lived and those of her novel’s characters. It is a slim novel of less than 150 pages, tightly written, so pick up a copy from your local library or purchase one from a bookseller and join us revealing Penelope Fitzgerald and ‘Offshore‘ as a Chelsea Castaway.
Please be aware that British Summer Time kicks in the night before, so you will need to get up earlier! The walkshop route is linear – we start at Clapham Junction railway station (Grant Road exit by Platforms 1 & 2), weaving our way through Battersea to the riverside, walk downriver past St Mary’s Church, Battersea, cross Battersea Bridge and turn up river towards the Lots Road power station, ending at World’s End (the western end of the King’s Road) – which is served by buses.
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