All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

on December 13, 2019

The Weekend
Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin
2019, 272p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

People went on about death bringing friends together, but it wasn’t true. The graveyard, the stony dirt – that’s what it was like now . . . Despite the three women knowing each other better than their own siblings, Sylvie’s death had opened up strange caverns of distance between them.

Four older women have a lifelong friendship of the best kind: loving, practical, frank and steadfast. But when Sylvie dies, the ground shifts dangerously for the remaining three. Can they survive together without her?

They are Jude, a once-famous restaurateur, Wendy, an acclaimed public intellectual, and Adele, a renowned actress now mostly out of work. Struggling to recall exactly why they’ve remained close all these years, the grieving women gather for Christmas at Sylvie’s old beach house – not for festivities, but to clean the place out before it is sold.

Without Sylvie to maintain the group’s delicate equilibrium, frustrations build and painful memories press in. Fraying tempers, an elderly dog, unwelcome guests and too much wine collide in a storm that brings long-buried hurts to the surface – and threatens to sweep away their friendship for good.

The Weekend explores growing old and growing up, and what happens when we’re forced to uncover the lies we tell ourselves. Sharply observed and excruciatingly funny, this is a jewel of a book: a celebration of tenderness and friendship that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

This is a difficult review to write because it’s one of those books where I didn’t love it, didn’t hate it. I enjoyed some aspects of it but some others really left me cold and overall I think that when I was finished, there were no lasting feelings about it, it’s the sort of book I’ll probably forget I’ve read until it wins a plethora of awards next year and I’ll go to read it and then suddenly remember that I already have.

It’s the story of Jude, Wendy and Adele, three women in their seventies who meet over Christmas at the holiday home of their recently deceased friend Sylvie. Sylvie’s partner has already sold their Sydney flat and left to go back overseas so the job of cleaning up the holiday home and getting it ready for sale falls to the three friends. Without Sylvie their dynamic of four is suddenly three and now it’s out of whack. She was a calming influence, someone who seemed to understand each of them and when they link up for the house sale, the whole structure of their friendship suddenly feels uncertain.

The positives for the book is that there is a lot of very nice and real stuff about friendship here – even as the three women are negotiating a different stage in theirs. It’s been an enduring friendship for them all, evolving over different stages of their lives encompassing successes, failures, grief, joy. The grief for Sylvie is all-encompassing too, something that all of them are struggling with. They’re all getting to ‘that age’ too, where their own mortality is staring them in the face. They’ve lost people along the way and one of them is even a widow, but the inevitability of their lifespan is something that is unavoidable now. And I think a lot of people will relate to that, that fear of getting older, of becoming infirm and relying on others to do the simplest things. The idea that one day we all just cease to exist and may even be forgotten.

But unfortunately for me, the story felt meandering, circular and like it was going nowhere. They’re supposed to be cleaning out this house but really only Jude is doing much work. Adele is worrying about her future as a probably homeless 70+ woman living Air BnB check to pension check and look, that’s a real concern for many people in the future. Housing prices have pushed many people away from ever being able to own their own property and when they’re not earning, housing insecurity will be a real issue in the next generation or so. But she’s so self-involved and lazy – assuming she will get the good bedroom, taking easy tasks as her due and then really barely doing them. Wendy is concerned with her dog who is 17 and struggling with pretty much every facet of life. The story of the dog made me uncomfortable and I’m aware it was probably supposed to. The dog is deaf, anxious, probably mostly blind, unable to control too many bodily functions and arthritic. I know how much pets can be a part of the family, how much they can tether you to memories and events. But honestly, that poor dog just came across like it was suffering rather than living and Wendy’s steadfast determination to hang onto him felt more cruel than loving owner. It was about her, not about the dog and what was best. And many people might argue that life is always better….I would differ. Sometimes it’s not. And part of owning a pet is assuming that responsibility too. Making that decision when the suffering outweighs the living. I felt like the dog honestly took up far too much of the story and there was far too much involvement of dog piss for me. Like I got it the first time, I didn’t need it repeated as a recurring plot point. And where I might have liked Wendy I found myself resenting her. Even though I got why she was so attached to the dog. But every time the dog was on the page, it was like here we go again, another lengthy description of the dog and its suffering and trembling and weird pacing.

There felt for me, a lack of depth here….the weirdness of Jude’s situation, the mystery of Wendy’s widowhood and academic lifestyle, even Sylvie seems more of a shadow than a character that brought them all to the house to clean it out. The writing is very good and Charlotte Wood is a wonderful writer so that’s to be expected. There were things in the story I could appreciate but overall, the direction felt lacking. Like for a large portion of the book very little of note happened except some cleaning, bickering and backstory and then it all kind of came to a head quite suddenly. And then it was over. I wanted more from them, more meaningful interactions. Most of this felt like it took place in the character’s own heads.

6/10

Book #206 of 2019

The Weekend is book #74 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019


8 responses to “Review: The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

  1. I’m a little surprised by your review, but really glad to see a different viewpoint. This is still on my wishlist

  2. Do you think that the dog might have been a metaphorical example of a reason to favour euthanasia? It’s not something I mentioned in my review but your descriptions here have made me think on it a bit more. 🤔

  3. PS: Sorry I made you read this! 😁 But on the plus side, at least that’s one you won’t need to read when you tackle the Stella longlist next year. (Come on, we all know it’s going to be on there).

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