Myers won the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction last year with The Gallows Pole, a novel set in Yorkshire among rough and rebellious weavers. It is a tale of violence and crime, told in gritty, slang-filled prose. The Offing is a change of direction. It is quiet and unabashedly lyrical... The Gallows Pole was originally published by an independent press. Bloomsbury has bought up all Myers’s previous novels and is reissuing them alongside The Offing. It is an act of faith in the author and, as The Offing amply proves, it is richly deserved.
this book is a sensual pleasure. With the lightest of touches, Myers draws out the historical parallels of his story: “See Europe at the very least while you can,” Dulcie advises Robert, “because soon enough someone else will decide to try to destroy it again. And God knows they like to rope the young into their messes.” But, wisely, he doesn’t try to make this into a novel about now. It’s about the forever things: good food, and art, and friendship, and how those pleasures can redeem us, even during the harshest of times.
The novel’s lyricism is arresting and profoundly moving: nature is observed here in detail and from the roots up; the swallows are returning to their summer homes; and the wild garlic flourishes in the fields. One senses a demand that we also look at society and culture with similar minute attention, and with an understanding of what men and women need in order to live with dignity. The ultimate point, though never pressed, is inescapable: one is reminded of England today, its history denied, its present degraded, its future unravelling. Late in the novel, Dulcie and Robert chance upon a poem called Threnody for the Drowned, and Dulcie explains that threnody “means a song that is sung in mourning. Or a poem. A lament for the deceased”. Perhaps there is a tentative note of optimism in the description of the eroding shoreline as “a sculpture, a work in progress” – but The Offing in its grief and beauty is ultimately a threnody in itself, a lament for the crumbling best of England. This is a novel for our times.
Benjamin Myers’s first novel since his Walter Scott prize-winning The Gallows Pole and switch from tiny indie publisher Bluemoose to Bloomsbury is an unexpectedly touching story of a friendship that conquers the barriers of age, class and gender. Set over a summer in the aftermath of the second world war, the book follows 16-year-old Robert Appleyard as he leaves his Durham colliery village to search for any work that isn’t coal mining: “an act of escapology and rebellion”...The Offing is written with Myers’s customary grit and brio, but the moorland chiaroscuro of The Gallows Pole has given way to lucid coastal air. The flinty, flexed, occasionally knotty prose of his other books, with their vernacular authenticity, has become lyrical and Lawrentian. It is a welcome advance, one that sees Myers effortlessly extending his range.
While he is staying with her he finds a manuscript left by a German woman Dulcie had a relationship with before the war. This is a poetic book with a winning generosity of spirit, moving from a folksy celebration of the rural north to a revelation of the broader horizons that can come from reading and some serious culture.
Durham-born Ben Myers may not be a household name, but he’s one of the most interesting, restless writers of his generation... The Offing is a straightforward, uncharacteristically gentle but beguiling coming-of-age tale that begins when shy 16-year-old miner’s son Robert leaves home, Laurie Lee-style, at the end of World War II... Unfurling at the unhurried pace of a fern, it’s also an evocatively lyrical paean to the countryside — deeply felt and closely observed.
It is a moving and subtle novel in many ways, infused with a love of the minute pleasures in life, and the lasting regrets... Despite the rather glorious descriptions of nature, the core of the novel is a young man finding, through kindness and food, that the world is bigger than he thought it might be. It is a novel full of quotable passages... It is difficult to read the book without reading into the book... The novel does hang together, although the epiphanies through the natural world, brandy and exposure to literature might seem a bit too twee for some tastes. But it does have an honest heart, and a sense of the difference small things can make. The exchanges between the naïf and the eccentric are full of a kind of salty charm, and the perceptions about limited opportunities are done with grace and with a simmering anger.