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Offcomer

de Jo Baker

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"An honest, affecting work of fiction about a young woman's search for her place in the world, Offcomer is the powerful first novel from the acclaimed author of Longbourn. Against the backdrop of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, recent Oxford graduate Claire is a mess. She's trapped in a disastrous relationship with a young academic, working a dead end job, stunned by the emergence of secrets from her mother's past, and seemingly addicted to self-destructive behavior. But like the ceasefire that has brought renewed hope to Belfast, Claire too is afforded an opportunity to reflect, gradually learning to accept herself and to discover her sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Unflinching in its depictions of the uncertainties of youth, Offcomer ("An arresting debut" --The Independent (London)) is a novel of real and quiet power, from literary star Jo Baker"--… (més)
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In Offcomer, Claire Thomas is a young woman from the North of England who, following her graduation from Oxford, has moved with her boyfriend Alan to Belfast, where he has found employment as an academic at a university. The time is the late 1990s, and a fragile truce prevails between opposing factions in Northern Ireland, though tensions remain high. An only child of a doting father (now disabled by a stroke) and emotionally withholding mother, Claire is habitually unsure of herself and her place in the world. She and Alan met in a drawing class, where he excelled but the only conclusion Claire reached was that she was wasting her time because she had no talent. Initially optimistic and forward looking, after the move to Ireland Claire discovers that living with a moody, controlling, career-driven narcissist is no easy thing. Often, she is reluctant to return home after work, and, when there, finds herself tip-toeing around the flat, navigating a wary path around Alan’s aggressive mix of disapproval, sexual need, jealous mistrust and petulant displays of stony indifference. Though employed at a pub and interacting regularly with other people, some of whom are considerate and even kind to her, Claire remains convinced that as an “offcomer,” she will never really belong or fit in, and, moreover, that she doesn’t deserve to. The reader learns early in the book that the political situation is not the only thing that is fraught and fragile: Claire’s state of mind is equally so, a fact that is presented in graphic fashion in the opening scene of the novel, in which we witness her engaged in an act of disfiguring self-harm. Claire, as it turns out, doesn’t feel at home anywhere, including inside her own skin, and her life is a constant struggle with crippling indecisiveness and self-loathing. Jo Baker’s quietly powerful and wrenchingly claustrophobic debut novel chronicles Claire Thomas’s slow escape out from under a condition of emotional dependency on a man who cares about nothing but himself and whose behaviour toward her is calculated to snuff out any spark of self-esteem that might light her day, and into a fragile truce with herself in which she learns trust and how to accept the spontaneous generosity of people who give freely without expectation of return. Along the way, her longing for an emotional connection with another human being causes her to make some poor decisions, and a discovery about her family is both painful and liberating. Admittedly, Offcomer is a novel that demands patience of the reader: the story of Claire’s small gains and gradual emergence into self-awareness is related at a measured pace. But the novel is written with great assurance, and readers who persevere to the end will find their patience amply rewarded. ( )
  icolford | Jun 8, 2019 |
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"An honest, affecting work of fiction about a young woman's search for her place in the world, Offcomer is the powerful first novel from the acclaimed author of Longbourn. Against the backdrop of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, recent Oxford graduate Claire is a mess. She's trapped in a disastrous relationship with a young academic, working a dead end job, stunned by the emergence of secrets from her mother's past, and seemingly addicted to self-destructive behavior. But like the ceasefire that has brought renewed hope to Belfast, Claire too is afforded an opportunity to reflect, gradually learning to accept herself and to discover her sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Unflinching in its depictions of the uncertainties of youth, Offcomer ("An arresting debut" --The Independent (London)) is a novel of real and quiet power, from literary star Jo Baker"--

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