Skip to main content

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and, for every reader, provide a deeper understanding of Offshore.

1. What might be the significance of the title Offshore, other than its obvious reference to living on houseboats? In what ways may Nenna, Richard, Maurice, and Willis all be characterized as being “offshore”? In contrast, how is life “onshore” portrayed?

2. We learn that “Nenna’s attitude to truth was flexible and more like Willis’s than Richard’s.” What are Nenna’s, Willis’s, Richard’s, and Maurice’s attitudes toward the “truth”? Do their attitudes toward the truth change?

3. There are repeated references to the ebb and flood of the river’s tide. What are some examples of how these fluctuating currents mirror the story’s events and the characters’ lives?

4. What prevents Nenna from reuniting with Edward? In what ways might both Nenna and Edward be responsible for their living apart?

5. Fitzgerald writes that “the barge-dwellers . . . would have liked to be more respectable than they were . . . But a certain failure, distressing to themselves, to be like other people caused them to sink back . . . into the mud moorings of the great tideway.” How do Nenna, Maurice, Willis, and even Richard embody that “certain failure,” and what prevents them from rectifying their situations?

6. In what ways do the names and conditions of the boats Lord Jim, Grace, Dreadnought, Maurice, and the others reflect the owners’ personalities and lives?

7. Maurice says to Nenna, “There isn’t one kind of happiness, there’s all kinds. Decision is torment for anyone with imagination.” What deters the characters from making decisions and experiencing happiness? Why might making a decision be “torment for anyone with imagination”?

8. What ironies emerge in the novel’s final scenes?

by Penelope Fitzgerald

  • Publication Date: April 3, 1998
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0395478049
  • ISBN-13: 9780395478042