Monday 25 October 2021

Guest review by Jon Appleton: THE WEEKEND by Charlotte Wood


" ... And yet the hunger remains, the appetite for life. What’s the best you can hope for? That’s what The Weekend is about. A hungry novel."  

Jon Appleton is a freelance writer and editor living in London. He is a regular contributor to Writers Review.

Nobody wants you when you’re old. You have to shore things up before this point. You have to face up to the future, to the worst possibilities, you have to prepare yourself. Anticipate, adapt, accept.’

You might argue that reaching your eighth decade precludes you from having to learn and harness jargonistic alliterative slogans. (Although strictly speaking this is assonance, right?) But events such as the loss of a partner, a child, a friend can prove so destabilising that you’re reduced, in some respects, to learning your A, B, C all over again.

That’s where we find long-time friends Jude, the restaurateur, Wendy, the academic and Adele, the actress, in the aftermath of their close friend Sylvie’s death. The three women are spending a hot Australian Christmas at Sylvie’s home (in the absence of Sylvie’s partner) to clear it for sale and the conclusion of a chapter of their lives.

More oppressive than a dead friend is the inclinator, the platform that elevates – infantilises? passengers and baggage from the ground level to house level. Oh, and Wendy’s poor, dear dog Finn, who soils himself and inconveniences fastidious Jude but is perhaps all Wendy has left of Sylvie. His life so far beyond comfort and opportunity that it surely would better be ended with mercy and kindness. Gulp.

As the women set about their tasks, they engage and remember and rewrite history. They pride themselves on the sophistication of their inner lives and scorn those who lack such vivid interiors.

They might be old but they have expectations. You might not want lost looks, lost love, men or sex, The Weekend argues. What you really want, reasonably, is work. And money. Others might think you’re past it, somehow an encumbrance or liability, but these women know you can still make certain demands. You can trust a lived-in body, you know how it works – ‘you left it alone and it sorted itself out’.

So demanding of the world beyond them, and yet, a lot of the time it seems the best they can offer each other is tolerance or forbearance. Except, of course, when push comes to shove, as it does at the brisk ending. But if you can’t be brisk in old age, when can you?

Charlotte Wood is an Australian writer whose reputation is enhanced with each new publication; The Weekend, her last-but-one novel, was published here with a splash last year and deservedly so.

You’ll learn a lot about contemporary Australian life. You’ll understand where Australia has emerged from. (The surnames alone – Wendy Steegmuller, Adele Antoniades - are telling.) But interestingly, the cultural references are British – no mention of the Miles Franklin Award, instead the Booker Prize. The women reference the Mamas and the Papas from their youth, not The Seekers.

There’s always been a tension in Australia that anyone with ambition is punching above their weight – ‘the tall poppy syndrome’, it was called. How much worse is it for the high-flyers now diminished in old age, by themselves, by others, by society?

And yet the hunger remains, the appetite for life. What’s the best you can hope for? That’s what The Weekend is about. A hungry novel. I loved it and recommend it. So will you.

The Weekend is published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

More recent choices by Jon:

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stewart

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