The Offing

The Offing

by Benjamin Myers

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Overview

Set in England over a summer in the aftermath of the second world war, the book follows 16-year-old Robert Appleyard, son of a coal miner, who leaves Durham village to head south and search for any work that isn’t coal mining. Eventually he finds himself in the old smuggling village of Robin Hood’s Bay. It’s here he meets Dulcie Piper, a fiercely independent woman, three times his elder, living with her protective German Shepherd named Butler in an unusual cottage. Seeing Robert from her yard, Dulcie offers him a room. The teenager plans on being there for only a night but Dulcie is entirely different to anyone he has ever met. Soon he finds himself trading his work for food and her infections company. She is verbose, eloquent, lobster eating, sexually liberated, motherly and foul-mouthed. He is a nationalist. She is a bohemian. As well as feeding him, Dulcie introduces him to poetry: “mankind’s way of saying that we’re not entirely alone.” She introduces Robert to writers he has never heard of – Lawrence, Whitman, Auden, Keats, Dickinson, Bronte, Rossetti – and food he has never tasted. Eventually, Robert finds an unpublished manuscript in a decaying shed. Dulcie reveals she was once the lover of Romy Landau, a tragic German poet. The manuscript, (also called The Offing), is his, and Dulcie’s past begins to unfold. It leads to the revelation of a tragic secret and a message from beyond the grave.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 07/20/2020

British writer Myers (The Gallows Pole) delivers an exceptional postwar coming of age story marked by assured, poetic prose. Robert Appleyard, 16, ventures out on a summer backpacking trip from his town in Northern England before following his destiny to work in the coal mines like the generations before him. The detailed contrast between his “soot-streaked” home and the bucolic South Yorkshire bay area, where “the ocean was a gateway,” showcases the author’s gift for channeling his character’s perception. Arriving at the coast, Robert meets Dulcie Piper, a worldly, irreverent older woman—she’s counted among her friends Noel Coward and D.H. Lawrence—and ends up doing odd jobs for her in exchange for a place to sleep and the exquisite meals she prepares. Dulcie opens Robert to literature, especially poetry, and tells Robert about her love affair with German poet Romy Landeau and Romy’s tragic death. While cleaning out a shack on Dulcie’s property, Robert comes upon a manuscript of poems by Romy dedicated to Dulcie, entitled The Offing, which ends up altering both his and Dulcie’s lives. Myers beautifully captures Robert’s budding romanticism as well as his nascent interest in literature. More than a story of Robert’s transformation, Myers’s work achingly conveys a desire to live life to the fullest. (Sept.)

From the Publisher

A phenomenal and highly energised novel” – Sebastian Barry, “A tender, tragic but warming story of love and living amid the flux of time, the sea and the seasons, The Offing is both beautiful and beautifully told. Through its pages, Myers carefully and thoughtfully reaffirms the values and riches of human connec-tion, freedom and the joy of living on your own terms” – ROB COWEN, award-winning author of Common Ground, “It reminds me of a time when David Bowie could serve up something new with almost every album ... the book portrays an uncanny feminine touch and though the trip is gentle, there are deep undercurrents in this heart of a new rural dark-ness” – CAUGHT BY THE RIVER

“Intense and evocative” – OBSERVER, Picks for 2019, “This is a poetic book with a winning generosity of spirit, moving from a folksy cel-ebration of the rural north to a revelation of the broader horizons that can come from reading and some serious culture” – SUNDAY TIMES,“One of the most interesting, restless writers of his generation … Unfurling at the unhurried pace of a fern, it's an evocatively lyrical paean to the countryside – deeply felt and closely observed” – DAILY MAIL

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781733350143
Publisher: Third Man Books
Publication date: 09/29/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 516,944
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

I listened to the song for a few moments. The voice was posh and slightly effeminate, again belonging to someone from an England that was unfamiliar to me. I tried to imagine its owner hewing a seam or working a wagon or telling blue jokes at the club of a Saturday evening. I couldn’t picture it.
‘Why was he in particular on Hitler’s list?’
She shrugged. ‘Who wouldn’t want to be on a list of dissidents, decadents and intolerably dangerous old fruits?’
‘How many people were on it?’
‘Oh, hundreds, I imagine. Possibly thousands. Anyone who was anyone. All the bores, of course, would be left off, and those who had crossed over.’
‘We’d be ruled by Nazis now if they had got their way,’ I said.
Dulcie shook her head, tutting. ‘Worse, Robert. Much worse. We would be ruled by those remain- ing English stiffs employed by the Nazis to do their bidding. Chinless wonders and lickspittles. There would be no room for the poets or the peacocks, the artists or the queens. Instead we’d be entirely driven by the very wettest of civil servants – even more so than we already are. A legion of pudgy middle managers would be the dreary midwives of England’s downfall. Human turds, the lot of them. Stiff, dry human turds.’
Dulcie looked adrift for a moment. She shook her head again, then continued.
‘So as you can probably imagine, an appearance on the list was the highlight of Mr Coward’s career to date – to be on the cultural radar, so to speak. He’d be the first to admit that he did quite well out of the war.’
‘He didn’t serve?’
‘Serve? Noël Coward couldn’t serve an omelette. No. He spent half of it at the Savoy after they bombed his home to bits, the other half entertaining the troops – or them entertaining him. And why not, I say. Play to your strengths. Here, let me play it one more time.’
Dulcie retreated to the house and then played the song again, only louder this time. The same plucked piano chords rang out as Noël Coward began to sing again with clear, clipped diction that enunciated every single word.
‘Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans ...’
She leaned out the window.
‘Now our victory is ultimately won ...’
‘Well?’ she said. ‘Is this the type of music you like?’ I listened to the song a little longer and heard the line ‘their Beethoven and Bach are really far worse than their bite’.
‘It’s clever, I suppose,’ I said, hesitating. ‘Funny.’
‘It’s pith,’ said Dulcie. ‘Pith, piss and piffle. But anything that is banned should always be worthy of further investigation. He spends a lot of time abroad now, Noël. Jamaica, mainly. He sends long letters moaning about the heat and the quality of the gin, as if he expected it any other way.’
She withdrew into the cool interior of the house and a moment later was in the garden again.
‘Are you familiar with the other popular song “Hitler Has Only Got One Whatsit”?’
I smiled as I shook my head.
‘Oh, yes, you are,’ said Dulcie. ‘You know. One ball.’ I laughed at this. ‘Yes, we used to sing it in the play-
ground,’ I admitted. ‘Sometimes some of us sang it in assembly too but the headmaster could never work out who it was, and if he had I doubt he would have punished us for it.’
‘Well, I happen to have it on good authority that there is a certain truth to it.’ ‘How do you mean?’
‘Cryptorchidism is what I mean. An undescended testicle. As a child it seems the Führer’s nut bag decided to protest the pull of gravity by staying precisely put.’
She paused and scratched her chin.
‘On the right side, I believe.’
‘But how could you possibly know that?’
‘I was told by a very credible, highly trusted source.’ ‘I can’t believe it.’
‘Well, it’s true. Also his hampton was perfectly normal despite the person it had the great misfortune to find itself attached to. And that’s all I can say on the matter.’ She leaned forward and tapped her nose. ‘The walls have ears. Now, are you hungry yet? You must be hungry by now.’
Only then did I realise how famished I was. ‘I could eat,’ I said. ‘Yes.’
‘You should eat.’
‘What time is it?’
‘There you are with time again. Is your belly growling?’ ‘It is a bit.’
‘Then the clock of your guts tells us that it’s lunchtime.’

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