About the Book
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.
Format: Audiobook (5h 34m) Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 16th October 2019 Genre: Historical fiction
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The Offing is quite different in style from the author’s Walter Scott Prize-winning The Gallows Pole which I read the year it was shortlisted. It is much gentler in tone but still quietly powerful. For anyone who’s wondering about the title, the offing is the name for the distant stretch of sea where sky and water merge.
The Offing involves a chance encounter between young Robert Appleyard, who has set off to explore the country beyond his home in a small mining village near Durham, and Dulcie, an older woman living in a cottage on the outskirts of Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. It leads to a friendship that also becomes an education for Robert. Dulcie introduces him to unfamiliar foods such as lobster, to wine and to her favourite nettle tea. But she also feeds his mind, lending him books of poetry by John Clare and novels by D H Lawrence and others.
For Robert, what starts as a temporary stay turns into a summer in which his mind and his horizons are widened by Dulcie’s unique take on the world. In return for her hospitality he works on clearing the meadow threatening to overwhelm her cottage and on restoring a nearby shack fallen into disuse. What he finds there unlocks memories of the past for Dulcie as well as setting Robert on a new path in life, one he never thought would be open to someone with a background like his.
I loved the descriptions of the natural world and the glorious meals Dulcie prepares for Robert. More than anything, I loved Dulcie – for her generosity, wit, independent spirit, wisdom and determination to live life by her own rules. As she says, “After all, there are only a few things truly worth fighting for: freedom, of course, and all that it brings with it. Poetry, perhaps, and a good glass of wine. A nice meal. Nature. Love, if you’re lucky.” Dulcie sees the potential in Robert that he can’t see himself and is intent on nurturing it as she once nurtured the talent of someone else.
I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Ralph Ineson. His deep, husky voice and northern accent were a good match for the slow unwinding of the story and its rich descriptive passages.
As well as being a compelling story of an unlikely friendship, The Offing is a love letter to the natural world, to poetry and to living life to the full. Highly recommended.
In three words: Lyrical, intimate, powerful
Try something similar: All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison
About the Author
Benjamin Myers was born in Durham in 1976. His novel The Gallows Pole received a Roger Deakin Award and won the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Beastings won the Portico Prize for Literature and Pig Iron won the Gordon Burn Prize, while Richard was a Sunday Times Book of the Year. He has also published poetry, crime novels and short fiction, while his journalism has appeared in publications including, among others, the Guardian, New Statesman, Caught by the River and New Scientist.
He lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. (Bio credit: Publisher author page)