BY BENJAMIN MYERS
Those of us finding solace in small acts of kindness, books, music, birdsong and walks in the park might consider such “little things” to be more than coping strategies but, in fact, ends in themselves.
That’s a central consideration in Benjamin Myers’ moving and hopeful novel The Offing, which, though written before COVID-19 kneecapped the world, reads like an allegory for our times and the months and years ahead when, sanitised fingers crossed, the worst will be over.
It’s set in the “scarred and shattered” aftermath of a global disaster, in this case World War II. The novel’s central figure, Robert, a 16-year-old working-class lad from a Durham coalmining village, is reluctant to rush into his destiny of a life spent underground. So, with few provisions and no plan, he sets off to explore the verdant world beyond the sooty flagstones of his town. Soon he is odd-jobbing, kissing girls and sleeping in barns and open fields.
Reaching the coast, he unwittingly changes the course of his life when he meets Dulcie, a 50-something eccentric who lives in a hidden-away home overlooking the sea. They don’t make them like Dulcie in Durham. She’s straight-talking, erudite and independent, an aesthete who introduces Robert to good literature, fine food and a world of ideas he’d never considered.
The Offing is an unconventional (platonic) love story, a paean to nature, and a reminder that most of what we slave and fight over won’t make us happy.
“Most people,” says Dulcie, “just want a quiet life. A nice meal, a little love. A late-night stroll. A lie-in on a Sunday.”
Amid today’s grim headlines and a social (media) discourse so often flecked with spittle, The Offing is reaffirming and comforting.