The passing of time encourages reflection, looking back over one’s life and the seminal moments that defined it. In author and poet Benjamin Myers’ The Offing, an old man remembers a youthful summer of significance.
As a shattered England recuperates from World War II, 16-year-old Robert Appleyard heads out to wander, in search of life beyond his village and the coal mines where his father worked. He meanders south, picking up odd jobs and witnessing remnants of a war he was too young to fight. For Robert, “the newness of the unfamiliar was intoxicating.”
A dead-end lane brings Robert into Dulcie Piper’s orbit, and thus begins an education. Well read and well traveled, unabashed and blunt, Dulcie has lived a life of adventure and pushed boundaries that Robert never imagined. For the last six years, though, her life has been overshadowed by a sudden and horrible loss. When Robert unearths a neglected manuscript in the tumbledown artist studio next to Dulcie’s cottage, his eccentric host opens up about her love and life with Romy Landau, a tormented and brilliant German poet living at a time when most British people considered Germans to be the enemy.
Myers writes beautifully and insightfully in The Offing. Highly sensory and inviting, the novel reads like a paean to the mettle of Britain’s men and women during a time of great upheaval. It’s also a pastoral ode to the lovely, verdant countryside that Robert encounters away from his coal-dusted home. Dulcie’s hospitality sparks an appetite in Robert not unlike her own youthful zest for life. His first tastes of lemon, wine and lobster, his first blush with pure poetry, his first attempt at driving a car—each has their own heady effect. Dulcie may be schooling Robert in the ways of her world, but his youthful and open perspective helps her see possibility beyond her grief.
There is plenty of wit and depth to be found in Myers’ lyrical writing and in the captivating way he envisions an unlikely friendship that charts a new course for both parties.