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Question

I would like to know whether the title of Benjamin Myers's novel The Offing can be interpreted as a metaphor for "going away", "vanishing", "deceasing". I am not a native speaker, and I would like to know how plausible this interpretation is for native speakers, or if there are maybe even obvious arguments that would make native speakers reject such an interpretation.

Context of the Novel

I just have read Benjamin Myers's novel The Offing. I have read it in German translation. The German title is Die offene See ("the open sea", "the deep sea"). I have looked up the offing both in English dictionaries (Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster) and in an English-German dictionary. All dictionaries confirm that the offing means something like

the part of the deep sea seen from the shore

The novel is set close to the sea and it contains a story of a woman who has committed suicide in the sea, Romy. There is one reference where word the offing is used in the novel. In that instance, the word is actually referring to the sea in a literal, non-metaphorical way. Part of the novel are also some poems written by Romy. These poems have both the sea and suicide as their subjects. One of the poems is called The Offing and it deals with suicide.

Associations of the Word Outside of the Novel's Context

Off

off means as much as "away", "out", and to off so. apparently is a slang word meaning "to kill someone". That is why, to me, the title gives raise to associations such as "going away", "vanishing", "deceasing". I tend to interpret the title as a metaphor, underlining once more the parallel between suicide and the open sea which I see established by the novel.

Second Meaning of the offing

Merriam Webster has a second meaning of the offing:

the near or foreseeable future

I feel that this also reduces the plausibility of my interpretation, as it strengthens other associations as conventionally established. My associations, in contrast, seem rather far-flung.

Other Metaphorical Interpretations

I have also found a review of the novel in The Guardian. The review is touching the meaning of the title, but does not really consider the metaphorical meaning I was thinking of:

The title, too, is resonant. The offing is “the distant stretch of sea where sky and water merge”, and it’s a perfect metaphor for invisible transition.

Although the author of the review also sees the offing as a metaphor, they interpret it as a different metaphor. The novel is also a coming-of-age story of the first person narrator, a young man from the countryside named Robert. The review relates the metaphor of the offing to the development of Robert, and not to Romy:

As we read, Robert’s adolescence and adulthood meet, while he tries to comprehend a worldly and sophisticated woman who embodies fearless independence.

Of course, both interpretations are not an outright contradiction. They can both be true at the same time. But the fact that the author of the review is considering the title to be a metaphor, but a different one, reduces the plausibility of my hypothesis.

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  • The passage into death. The "open sea" is the open grave, waiting for the dead to take up occupancy.
    – Zan700
    May 12, 2022 at 2:00

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I would like to know whether the title of Benjamin Myers's novel The Offing can be interpreted as a metaphor for "going away", "vanishing", "deceasing".

The first thing to say is that without reading the entire book, it is not possible to give a definitive answer to your question.

Offing falls into four categories:

  1. The purely nautical, which, as far as I am aware is old-fashioned and rare. (You have given this definition)

  2. The poetic/historical in which (usually) our heroine stares out into the offing awaiting the return of her lover.

  3. By extension "the near future" (i.e. as the impending the arrival of a ship that is "in the offing".)

1970 G. F. Newman Sir, you Bastard viii. 241 Number six could be afforded if he got promoted, but promotion wasn't in the offing.

i.e. the idea of the distant sea as seen from the shore.

  1. Mainly a verb but possible as a gerund:

OED

6. transitive. Chiefly U.S. To kill. Also reflexive: to commit suicide.

1967 P. Thomas Down these Mean Streets xx. 198 If he lays a hand on me again, I'm gonna off him.

1997 J. Moore Never eat your Heart Out 136 After Pal Thayer's death people talked about why Pal ‘offed’ himself.

Although this last meaning appears to fit your optimism, it does not. The register is very informal - approaching slang. It would be totally out of context for the book you describe. It would fit as a title for a gangland drama or assassination, or other story in which a death or suicide is the central motif.

I would understand "The Offing" as a reference to something being at a distance. It seems that the "worldly and sophisticated woman" might fit here.

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  • I also think that to off is not a strong contribution to my hypothesis. But it underlines that off can bear a connotation of "away" in the sense of "death". May 12, 2022 at 7:45

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