All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

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

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Love & Hunger – Charlotte Wood

Love And HungerLove & Hunger
Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin
2012, 320p
Read from my local library

I’ve talked before on my blog here about how I don’t really like cooking that much. I like the idea of cooking. I like finding things that I’d like to eat and cutting the recipes out of magazines, or whatever, for a rainy day. I buy cookbooks. But when it comes down to it, I don’t really like the creation process of cooking, especially with 2 young children underfoot. My husband works nights and I find the time between say 5-8pm the most difficult to get things done. The kids are bored, they’re hungry for their own dinner, they’re demanding attention. And I really hate the mess that cooking makes. Ok, the mess that I make when I’m cooking.

Luckily my husband pretty much loves to cook. Since I moved in with him nearly 7 years ago, I haven’t cooked more than probably a dozen or so times. I bake things, like cakes, biscuits, banana bread etc. But cooking a full meal? That’s his job. I just provide the inspiration. He eats everything so whatever I tell him I feel like, is what we eat.

It’s clear that my feeling on cooking and preparing food is almost borderline opposite to Charlotte Wood’s. An Australian author of such books as Animal People and The Children, this book Love & Hunger is part memoir and part homage to her love of produce and preparing it. It’s filled with simple recipes and handy tips like her idea of staples for any cupboard, fridge or freezer. In all honestly, Wood’s attitude towards food and cooking it is, in an ideal world, the one that I’d like to have myself. The passion and enthusiasm she has for good, local and fresh produce shines off the page and she infuses beautiful memories of her childhood and the people in it and how so many things revolve around food. Whenever anyone was sick, or had passed on, there were plenty of people who gathered around to provide nourishing meals for the family, a strengthening of friendship ties by a simple gesture to let the family know they were cared about and being thought of. So much of our lives revolves around food and the consumption of it that it’s possible to tie it into just about every major event in our lives and many minor ones. Be they good or bad, I carry so many food memories and the mere mention of some foods can have me desperate for another taste or in the case of beef stroganoff or chicken teriyaki, looking around for the nearest bathroom. Vivid memories of food poisoning courtesy of those two in my university dining hall will never leave me. I cannot see myself ever trying to eat any of those meals ever again.

I have to admit, I have relatively simple food tastes. I’m definitely never going to be the type to go to the latest Michelin starred restaurant and book some 12 course gastronomic feast. I’m virtually un-Australian because I don’t eat seafood at all. Even though I love looking through cookbooks, to be honest, a large portion of them I skim over because they do feature food I’d never eat. Whilst this book also features recipes for meals I probably wouldn’t eat (such as the sardines!) it’s the beautiful collection of stories that is contained within it that sticks in my mind. Wood has a fantastic conversational style of writing, like you’re two people sitting down to have a chat and she’s simply telling you a few anecdotes. People in these stories come to life – they’re all people that we ourselves might know, stories that everyone can relate to and bring up a reader’s own memories. This book was a celebration of love, family, relationships and friendships as much as it was an admiration and devotion to food cooked well and prepared simply. Wood herself admits she doesn’t “plate up”, a new fad since Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules rocketed to the top of the TV ratings lists. Now everyone wants to serve up their dinner like they’re at a hatted restaurant. Wood’s simple back to basics, all about the food dishes are diverse in ranges of difficulty but none of them really seem utterly too daunting for even someone like me to attempt.

I’m going to pass this one along to my husband for him to enjoy as well. It’s the type of book where a wide variety of people can get such a pleasurable experience out of it, whether you are passionate about cooking and food or not. And I definitely think that there’s a few things in there that will help us be more efficient with the food we do buy and with stocking our cupboards.

8/10

Book #35 of 2013

AWW2013

Love & Hunger is the 16th novel read for AWW2013 and my first non-fiction for the challenge.

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