by Penelope Fitzgerald ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1987
A quietly spirited little novel about people living on the edge (and at the end) of things: winner of the Booker Prize when it was published in England in 1979. (Fitzgerald is author of Innocence--1987--and the nonfiction The Knox Brothers--1978.) Nenna James, 32, is center of attention here as she raises her two young and precociously observant daughters aboard the Grace, a derelict barge-cum-houseboat anchored on the tumbledown shore of the Thames at Battersea, London. The time is 1962, and others live around Nenna, on assorted barges of their own, holding together their marginal and sea-touched lives: Willis, the aging marine artist whose barge Dreadnaught sinks; crisp and kindhearted ex-officer of the Royal Navy, Richard Blake, who lives on Lord Jim and whose marriage (like Nenna's) is on the rocks; and Nenna's friend and confidant, the gay prostitute Maurice, whose barge Maurice is used as a depository for stolen goods by a cruel villain who later does passing damage. As for events: Nenna is separated from her husband, who, upon returning from temporary employment in South America, is disapproving and appalled to find Nenna living on the river; he leaves her and the two girls there, removing himself to a far and land-locked corner of London. Nenna's attempt to reawaken his love (she makes a journey to visit him) turns out to succeed, but his slowness of response proves disastrous: by the time he makes his way to Grace to find Nenna and the girls, they've gone ashore, soon to be escorted off to a morally bracing life in Canada by Nenna's proper, well-off, and assertive sister Louise. At the wondrously-done end: a dark storm howls up the Thames, tearing a not-quite deserted barge from its moorings. One thinks of Joyce Cary's Gully Jimson in the tender but unpretentious Nenna, her old-before-their-time but never saccharine daughters, and in the glory-faded poetry of the historic river itself, ""bearded with the white foam of detergents, calling home the twenty-seven lost rivers of London. . ."" In all, a small and very bright treasure.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1987
Page Count: -
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1987
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