#BookReview The Offing by Benjamin Myers @BloomsburyBooks

The OffingAbout 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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My Review

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

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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 GuardianNew StatesmanCaught by the River and New Scientist.
He lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. (Bio credit: Publisher author page)

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A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth by Daniel Mason #BookReview @MantleBooks

20200131_142931About the Book

From the bestselling, award-winning author of The Winter Soldier and The Piano Tuner, a collection of interlaced tales of men and women as they face the mysteries and magic of the world

On a fateful flight, a balloonist makes a discovery that changes her life forever. A telegraph operator finds an unexpected companion in the middle of the Amazon. A doctor is beset by seizures, in which he is possessed by a second, perhaps better, version of himself. And in Regency London, a bare-knuckle fighter prepares to face his most fearsome opponent, while a young mother seeks a miraculous cure for her ailing son.

At times funny and irreverent, always moving and deeply urgent, these stories – among them a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart Prize winner – cap a fifteen-year project. From the Nile’s depths to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, from volcano-racked islands to an asylum on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, these are tales of ecstasy, epiphany, and what the New York Times Magazine called the “struggle for survival…hand to hand, word to word,” by “one of the finest prose stylists in American fiction”.

Format: Hardcover (240 pages) Publisher: Mantle
Publication date: 14th May 2020 Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories

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My Review

I adored Daniel Mason’s novel The Winter Soldier so you can imagine my delight when the lovely Camilla Elworthy at Mantle offered me a proof copy of his latest book, a collection of stories intriguingly titled A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth.

Usually in a collection of short stories there are one or two that fall a little flat or which aren’t as engaging as the rest. Not so with this collection as each story offered something slightly different and had its own special appeal, whether that’s the immersive atmosphere of a period in time (such as in ‘Death of a Pugilist’) or a place (as in ‘The Ecstasy of Alfred Russell Wallace’), a quirky character (as in the Jekyll and Hyde-like ‘The Second Doctor Service’), unexpected touches of humour (as in ‘The Miraculous Discovery of Psammetichus I’) or poignant moments (as in ‘For The Union Dead’).

However, if I have to pick out a favourite it would be ‘The Line Agent Pascal’ which tells the story of the lonely existence of a telegraph operator stationed in the depths of the Amazon jungle. He maintains a connection with the outside world through the signals of his fellow operators up and down the line. Over the years, he comes to know them from small details such as requests for medication, instructions to their tailors or orders for favourite foods, until one day the absence of a message changes everything.

As you read the stories, and especially as you read the strangely compelling and poignant final story, the subtle links between them and their recurring themes become clearer: the desire to explore, the search for understanding or knowledge, the urge to record for posterity. The book had me searching for more information about many of the characters featured, as a result of which I can safely say I know more about a Brazilian who made art from found objects than I could have possibly ever imagined. Tip: search online for some images of the work of Arthur Bispo do Rosário.

As I was reading an uncorrected proof copy, I can’t share any quotations so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the book contains some superb writing. A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth is a tour de force of imagination and one of the most absorbing and satisfying short story collections I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.

In three words: Dazzling, imaginative, assured

Try something similar: Beautiful Star & Other Stories by Andrew Swanston

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About the Author

Daniel Mason is a physician and author of The Piano Tuner (2002), A Far Country (2007), The Winter Soldier ​(2018), and A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth (2020).  His work has been translated into 28 languages, awarded the Northern California Book Award for Fiction, and shortlisted for the Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prize.  The Piano Tuner was produced as an opera by Music Theatre Wales, and adapted to the stage by Lifeline Theatre.  His short stories and essays have appeared in ​The AtlanticHarper’s, Zoetrope: All Story and Lapham’s Quarterly; in 2014 he was a recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

A Clinical Assistant Professor in the Stanford University Department of Psychiatry, his research and teaching interests include the subjective experience of mental illness and the influence of literature, history, and culture on the practice of medicine.

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