The Offing by Benjamin Myers

This is a beautiful book, a coming-of-age story set shortly after the WW2. A boy sets off on foot from the coal-mining village he lives in to travel and see more. He has been chained to the classroom for too long and wants to experience life. On his travels he meets Dulcie who feeds him and offers him a few jobs and he stays.

My parents had never entertained the idea that I might do anything else but join the pit. There were boys I had grown up with who had already done two or three years at the coalface, yet for one so infatuated with fresh air and solitude, the expectation that I would follow my father down the shafts as he had his father before him was the very reason I was walking the lanes of England now. It was escapology and rebellion . . .


As he has been sleeping outside and in barns, he decides to do up the summer house/studio in the garden and finds a series of poems inside a suitcase. He reads them through a few times and realises why Dulcie is on her own – only the gist. He doesn’t fully understand poetry and was completely bored by it in school.

Eventually, Dulcie asks him to read the poems to her, one a night and it becomes clear that Romy, the poet, was loved deeply by Dulcie but still killed herself by drowning. It is the first time that Dulcie has heard the poems and it has an enormous impact on her.

The story of Robert Appleyard’s early travels is told by him as an older man, looking back on his life and remembering the time and the encouragement and support Dulcie gave him to go to university to study. She opened the windows to a different life and provided him with a place to return to long after she was gone. She showed him a life as an aesthete, pleasure being important and cooked and drank with little self-restraint.

The offing is the place where the sea and the sky meet – a transition and a place that you can never quite get to or the more distant part of the sea in view. It is the place where Romy went but also that inbetween place where Robert also was, where his youth and adulthood met when he stayed with Dulcie.

The season and place is described so that you can feel the long hot summer – it’s lyrical. The description of entering the cold water of the sea is the description from one who has done this more than once.

The seabed was a jagged morass of pebbles and smashed shells swirling around my ankles. The water made my bones feel forged, indestructable, and as the brown brine turned to a fizzing foam a larger wave, the seventh in a set, took me by surprise and though I turned my back to it at the last moment and was still only chest-deep it wallopd my neck, defiantly slapped my face, filled one ear to deafness and sent me stumbling into the gelid squall.


The book is a summer song.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *