Benjamin Myers is the author of a great many titles of which includes the hugely successful ‘The Gallows Pole‘ which was originally published by Bluemoose Books – many awards, plaudits and fans of his fiction shortly followed, cementing him as a new and exciting voice in fiction. It was only a matter of time before the big boys came knocking and realised the talent Myers wields, and his services, including his back catalogue were soon purchased by Bloomsbury – ‘The Offing‘ is his latest slice of brilliance.
Myers is a fabulous raconteur, there is no doubting this fact, and with ‘The Offing‘ he showcases to a wider audience (with the reach of Bloomsbury) his ability to weave an arrestingly brilliant, rich and most beguiling story with assured ease.
Myers’ words seem to sing from the page, in deftly crafted and considered prose, with similes and metaphors to die for; and astute observations that appear to have been plucked from the very fabric of life and arranged like a entomologist – every word, every sentence, every paragraph framed perfectly on the page and held within the story with precision and a deft touch – ensuring that the beauty of his prose, and the majesty of ‘The Offing‘ is displayed for the world to see in all its sublime and rich glory.
‘There had been a war and though the conflict was over it still raged on in those men and women who had brought it home with them.’
Our story follows the life of Robert, a young boy on the cusp of adulthood, fleeing a mining town, where he is expected to follow his father down the pit and commit to a life of toil and danger. But, Robert dreams of exploring, of being one with nature, wanting a last trip or adventure before he succumbs to the inevitable fate playing out before him, a life out of his control and social status – he’ll be a miner, thats for sure. But the beauty of The Offing is what will he become before his fate is realised – what life experiences will he have, the people he’ll meet, the things he’ll see before then. That is the gripping story Myers unravels before our eyes.
The story is set in the years following the Second World War, and Myers writes with the freedom and honesty of someone who has a real grasp for historical fiction, writing with an unwavering passion and effortlessly summing up this time, place and people with a masters touch – bringing the old and forgotten, the lost and the fading memories back into our consciousness with vibrant and stunningly astute realism which at times reads like poetry – all the while honouring those people and places that were affected by the war.
‘Wars continue long after the fighting has stopped, and the world felt then as if it were full of holes. It appeared to me scarred and shattered, a place made senseless by those in positions of power. Everything was fragments, everything burnt.’
Myers also proves that he has a firm grasp on nature writing too (what can I say the man has it all), writing sublime observational prose of the landscape and environment Robert finds himself in. This for me was a joy to behold, Myers writing seemed to drip from the page like honey from the comb. You are fully immersed in the world that he has created, you can feel the dew on your face, imagine the insects and bugs crawling over the page, then you are buffeted by the wind, rain and sea…it is powerful stuff which further highlights his undeniable talent as a masterful storyteller.
The key to the book for me, are the fully formed cast of characters that Myers weaves into his delectable story. He doesn’t over complicate things, if anything this is a more stripped back version of Myers we are reading, he keeps it simple, with the story only centring around a handful of characters – Dulcie, Robert and Butler (he’s a dog so doesn’t talk much) and we also learn of the legend that was Romy Landau.
Having such a small pool of characters, Myers is able to create a very intimate story, so intimate, that it feels as though you are leafing through someones diary, or photo album – scared that at any moment they will burst in and catch you peeping. You are observing and discovering the intimate snapshots that are seldom seen, disclosed or witnessed in real life. It’s life under the microscope and we are the lucky ones taking a peek.
‘And in that moment I felt something of a kinship with those lone sailors and fishermen out on the sea’s skyline who had only their twinkling lamplights to register their existence, the coast of their country and the warm beds of their wives as distant as other planets – visible but unreachable, held between thumb and forefinger as they bobbed on the soft swell, anchored only by the deep ache of longing.’
The Offing has a deftly crafted and perfectly executed lyricism about its prose, it’s quite remarkable and something to be praised. I’ve never encountered anything quite like it, or a writer quite like Benjamin Myers (if you’ve not read his work before you are in for a treat), a writer who is home in all aspects of his writing, whether that be his astute prose, breathtakingly poetic storytelling, realism, historical fiction, or his attention to detail around nature and the human condition – which blend with such an honest and masterful touch; aiding the story to transcend the pages it’s held within; living long after in the hearts and minds of his readers.
With the Gallows Pole Myers announced himself as a tremendous storyteller, with The Offing he cements his place as one of the best storytellers working today.
‘The night shift had been replaced by a new menagerie of sun-worshipping species intent on serenading me from the first glimpsed finger of light that scratched at the roaring dawn sky.
From branches and nests and hedgerows and the meadow their calling came.’
It is very seldom that you discover a story that has it all. So, believe me when I say The Offing is just that story – it needs to be celebrated, cherished and devoured by the masses. There is so much love, beauty, honesty and joy in this book, that, in my opinion, makes it the must read book of the year. Myers writes about life, people and nature with such blinding clarity and astute detail that one can’t help but see the brilliance held within the pages of The Offing and the sublime gift that Myers offers the world with his writing.
”I began to live, Robert. And to love too. And that is what you must do. Live and love as many mouths, hands and clammy holes as you can cram yourself into, and then, when you find someone who satisfies your soul too, you give yourself to them entirely.”
The Offing is therapy for the soul, a rich and delicious tonic, refreshing and unforgettable – a book that is full of joy and boy do we need that. A book that enables the reader to escape to a simpler time, and quite possibly a better time – and in these current climes…a bit of escapism is all we really need.
The Offing is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.
Benjamin Myers was born in Durham in 1976. His novel The Gallows Pole received a Roger Deakin Award and won the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Beastings won the Portico Prize for Literature and Pig Iron won the Gordon Burn Prize, while Richard was a Sunday Times Book of the Year. He has also published poetry, crime novels and short fiction, while his journalism has appeared in publications including, among others, the Guardian, New Statesman, Caught by the River and New Scientist.
He lives in the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire.
benmyers.com / @BenMyers1
The Offing by Benjamin Myers is published by Bloomsbury on August 22nd 2019. His previous novels The Gallows Pole, Beastings and Pig Iron are also reissued by Bloomsbury.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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