I first noticed The Offing by Benjamin Myers while on a day trip to Bath. It was eight days later when a copy fell through the letterbox of my north London flat; only, I hadn’t ordered it. It took a little investigation to identify the sender as my companion to the heritage city. Books have meaning beyond their contents; stories remind us of times in our lives and the people who have enlivened them. Myers’ The Offing tells the heart-warming story of sixteen-year- old Robert Appleyard and his unlikely friendship with a mysterious elderly lady. In this sense, it is a tale of companionship; and for me, the wonderful serendipity of correlation between the novel’s sentiment and the means by which it arrived on my shelf.
In the wake of the Second World War, Robert leaves his mining-orientated Durham village in search of substance, summer and freedom. His projected odyssey takes a seemingly short- lived pause when he meets Dulcie, an elderly lady from Robin Hood’s Bay. Robert relaxes in her company; he rests, eats and helps around the house. Seamlessly, the short stopover becomes the journey itself. Dulcie teaches Robert about culture, art, food and nature; however, of the lady herself, we know very little…
Myers’ command of the nature-writing genre is up there with the best of his generation. His ability to convey a sense of place is astonishing and provides the escapism that we all so desperately crave. I could smell the sweet scent of summer as it dripped seductively from the pages of this short novel. Certainly, the book is a tonic to the urban realism of his earlier hit Pig Iron; however, it loses none of the gravitas, philosophy or empathy for the tortures of the human condition.
You cannot go far wrong with this joyous little text; its brevity is to its credit. As with all mighty works, it is easy to pine for its continuation without appreciating that the magic is in its finitude.
The Offing by Benjamin Myers is published by Bloomsbury, pp. 258.