Penelope Fitzgerald’s win raised the perennial Booker Prize question: at what point does a novella become a novel? At 132 pages, Offshore remains the shortest winning book yet.

V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend In the River and William Golding’s Darkness Visible had been the fancied novels so victory for a slim but elegant tale of middle-class chatterers on a Battersea houseboat came as a shock. One of the judges, Hilary Spurling, later revealed that Golding had most votes but she put her foot down for Naipaul, ‘So we compromised by giving the prize to everybody’s second choice.’

Spurling also claimed that the general amazement at the result caused Fitzgerald ‘pain… and humiliation ever after’.

Penelope Fitzgerald
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The shortest novel to win the Booker Prize, Penelope Fitzgerald offers a delightful glimpse into the workings of the eccentric London community living on houseboats on Battersea Reach.

The Shortlist

Prize winner
A Bend in the River

The 1979 judges