Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


The Thames by Night - Fitzgerald's WorldThe Thames by Night - Fitzgerald's World

A long time back I came across a volume of novels by Penelope Fitzgerald. After reading 'The Bookshop', I knew she was someone special. After reading 'The Gate of Angels', I was putting the book away, keeping the last novel, 'The Blue Flower', as treasure, solace for a rainy day. Sadly that book is packed away now and finding it would be an ordeal. So when I saw a second collection of Fitzgerald's novels in Chapters recently, I treated myself. I finished 'Offshore' last weekend.

Fitzgerald was past 60 when she started to write, and she had an eventful life upon which to draw. One colourful period involved her living on a barge on the Thames, twice, twice being the victim of a sinking. This experience informs 'Offshore', lending it a beautiful authentic air. You can smell the rotten water that forms such a major part of the characters' lives.

The story, such as it is, is slight. A collection of assorted misfits try to keep afloat, literally and metaphorically. There is a mechanical element to the novel that in hands less deft might have been too contrived to work. Each character is referred to by their boat, a kind of alter ego that allows us another insight into the state of their lives. Richard's boat is all proper and shipshape, too much so, and there's something ironic in its name, the 'Lord Jim', for anyone who knows Conrad's novel; Nenna's 'Grace' is messy, but sounder than it appears; Willis's 'Dreadnought' is quaint, but always perilously close to sinking. Living on an ebbing tide means that each character is half on land, half the time on water, between the two elements, unsure and capricious. Even the Thames, cosily snaking through the city, is, unlike the Danube (to which it is compared), subject to the tides of the sea.

Fitzgerald's third fiction book, after 'The Bookshop', it shares that novel's tone and style. Outwardly it seems whimsical and shallow, but do not be deceived; the playful froth on the surface hides an ocean of sadness. And the craft! Apparently effortless, there is artistry in every choice of word. A fabulous writer.

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At 12:39 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whats a meta for?

At 1:08 am, Blogger Niall said...

I knew that was coming, Nig! I was going to title that post exactly that, but knew it wouldn't mean anything to anyone else. What are you doing commenting so late?

At 9:22 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

make makes you think that was me Niall? I've no idea what you're talking about but whoever wrote it is amazingly funny! nig


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