The Offing by Benjamin Myers

I found it difficult to choose the right superlative to describe Benjamin Myers’ The Offing. I’d been mulling it over for a while and the word I chose is ‘wonderful’. And I mean it in the truest sense of the word: the story, the writing, the characters, and the places invoked in this novel filled me with wonder. I have to admit that I was a big fan of Myers after reading The Gallows Pole, and it can feel like an activity in fandom reviewing a book by an author you already respect, admire and enjoy. But The Offing was so unlike Gallows’ dark, wet moorland vernacular, as to make the books almost incomparable. Myers' brilliance in bringing place and environment to life thankfully continues in this new work. The ‘offing’ is where the sea and the sky meet; a place of transition, and this novel takes place in brisk, sunny, coastal air.

Robert, sixteen, leaves his Durham colliery village at the end of World War II on foot to see the outdoors, and to find work that isn’t his father’s in the mines. The scars the war has left on England are clearly seen through the eyes of a young man whose life has been informed by wartime rationing and the threat of total destruction. Upon reaching the coast, he meets Dulcie, a much older woman who lives on a rundown smallholding with her dog. She is witty, foul-mouthed, eloquent, scathingly anti-authoritarian, and revels in the simple pleasures of good food and good company; she is completely unlike anyone Robert has ever met before. The two forge a friendship centred on kindness and giving that allows Robert to grow into an adult and for Dulcie to come to terms with the loss that war has brought her. The Offing is a beautiful, heartening novel.

Michael McLoughlin works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.