We all of us go through reading slumps, and it takes a special book to revive you. The Offing by Benjamin Myers, was recently one such book for me.
Post-Christmas I was on good reading form. Great, even. I had luxuriated in time off with my nose in a book (or three, or four). I had hit my stride in January, reading a book a week, in line with my target of 52 books for 2020. But then I hit a bit of a wall.
Working part-time in a bookshop, I am in a privileged position to receive proof copies of forthcoming publications in advance of when they hit the shelf. As far back as December 2019, I had access to books published the following May. It is both a blessing and a curse. I have to read widely in order to excel in my job as a bookseller. I need to be able to make informed decisions and suggestions for people looking for new books to read. Reading ahead is good, but if the book hasn’t yet been published, I can’t translate it into a sale. It’s a balancing act of reading priorities, and after January, these began to get in a muddle.
We received a deluge of proof copies in late January/early February and I no longer knew where to start when picking through them. I was also reading a gift copy of a book that I wasn’t gelling with. What should have taken me 1-2 weeks to read took me a month. At the same time, I soft-launched a new book group and it’s important that I read books that would be suitable to pitch for my members. Once again, I can’t pitch them a book that hasn’t been published.
The whole scenario began to stress me out, and I lost all momentum for reading. Following some procrastination, I made a decision to read a recently published book to get myself back on track in the present time. That book was The Offing.
I had been aware of The Offing when it first came out in hardback – it had a sea-themed cover of sea, sand and nautical rope that lodged in my memory. Newly out in paperback, I knew it was still receiving lots of praise, and winning several awards and accolades. Author, Ben Myers, was also in the literary news for writing openly and honestly about his experiences of anxiety while doing a promotional tour for the book. In summary, it was on my radar.
I set down to read it and promptly devoured it in one day. Set in north-east England during the summer after the Second World War has ended, the writing is truly stunning. I believe nature writing to be a very particular talent, and Ben Myers is overflowing with it. The landscapes and scenery are so beautifully depicted, that you are completely immersed in the environment.
Sixteen-year-old Robert sets off on a summer journey across the north-east towards to the coast. He wishes to have an adventure before embarking on a life down the coal pits, as the family generations dictate he will. Walking day by day, working odd jobs, he lives hand to mouth and sleeps in barns and hedgerows. He stumbles upon a cottage owned by Dulcie, a worldly older lady with a larder brimming with food and a garden overrun by nature. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, and as summer wears on, their lives are at first subtly, but ultimately profoundly altered by one another.
I simply could not put it down. The Offing isn’t a page-turner because of thrill and suspense, but because it is total escapism. It encroaches on you in the same way the meadows swallow up Dulcie’s home. You find yourself completely drawn into Robert and Dulcie’s daily routine. Rustic feasts, meadow bathing and woodland walks sooth your soul. Time and season subtly passes, and with it are beautiful descriptions of sun and sky, storm and sea. The tide ebbs and flows until suddenly the summer ends, and with it, the book. The Offing is the most wonderful story to immerse yourself in, and to emerge from feeling ready for more reading.