Tuesday 31 March 2020

The Weekend

Holiday reading is always fun to think about. So much expectation, of the holiday itself of course, and what you'll read while on holiday - always massively over calculated. I'm coming to the growing realisation that I rarely get more than one book read while I'm away, no matter the length of the holiday. I tend to do more holidaying than reading. Even so I always pack at least four books, knowing that I will buy many more while away. For quite some time I was planning that I would read Trent Dalton's Boy Swallows Universe while I was in Tasmania in January (ah, interstate travel in a group, so last year). He's got a new book coming out in a few months, and I haven't read his first one yet. I hate that.

Somewhat out of the blue Trent got pipped at the post by a more recent book Charlotte Wood's The Weekend. No particular reason. I did consider some Tasmanian books - Heather Rose's Bruny, Robbie Arnott's Flames, and also some themed books, notably Alice Bishop's A Constant Hum as Australia continued to burn, and I knew I would see bushfires from my plane seat.

But I'd been intrigued by The Weekend since I'd first heard about it. A tale of three close friends, now in their 70s, coming together to clear out the holiday house of their fourth friend who had died earlier in the year. Increasingly I love stories about older adults. 

I really enjoyed getting to know Jude, Wendy, Adele and their absent friend Sylvie. I've recently taken to travelling with three friends, there was the shock of recognition at times, and prophecy. Hopefully decades away for us though. 
Adele and Wendy and Jude did not fit properly anymore, without Sylvie. They had been four, it was symmetrical. When they went on holidays they shared two hotel rooms, two beds in each. There were four places at the table, two on each side. Now there was an awful, unnatural gap. 
I enjoyed the stories of how the four of them met, their friendship over time, and the various hurdles that life throws our way. 
This was something nobody talked about: how death could make you petty. And how you had to find a new arrangement among your friends, shuffling around the gap of the lost one, all of you suddenly mystified by how to be with one another. 
I've read two  Charlotte Wood novels now. I read The Natural Way of Things (see my review) back in 2016. The Weekend was certainly a less discomforting read, more suburban. But Charlotte Wood still has her eyes keenly focused on our culture and societal changes.
Everybody hated old people now; it was acceptable, encouraged even, because of your paid-off mortgage and your free education and your ruination of the plant. And Wendy agreed. She loathed nostalgia, the past bored her. More than anything, she despised self-pity. And they had been lucky, and wasteful. They had failed to protect the future. But, on the other hand, she and Lance had had nothing when they were young. Nothing! The Claires of the world seemed to forget that, with all their trips to Europe, their coffee machines and air conditioners and three bathrooms in every house. And anyway, lots of people, lots of women - Wendy felt a satisfying feminist righteousness rising - didn't have paid-off mortgages, had no super. 

Young people, Australians, now spoke with American accents, pronouncing their r's at the end of words and saying afterr, the a like in apple. Why was this? The Western world had blurred itself into one jellied cultural mass. Her students last time she had lectured - years ago, when they still wanted her - knew the names of suburbs in San Francisco or Seattle better than the names of towns of Western Victoria. It was strange. For almost all of Wendy's life the only things Australians knew about America were the words 'New York' or 'LA' or 'Niagara Falls', but now her friends' grandchildren were buying brownstones and running businesses in Brooklyn as if this was the most normal thing in the world. Neighbourhood, they said. Bed-Study. Prospect Heights. 
I really loved the first two thirds or so, but didn't enjoy it as much after two new, and not particularly likeable, characters were introduced later on in the book. I do wonder about the title of The Weekend, as it isn't set over a weekend. It's set at Christmas. 
Christmas was supposed to mean renewal. It meant the beginning of things not the end. 
Which I found a nice accident for my January holiday read. It was also set somewhere north of Sydney, which is where I grew up, it's all a bit vague in the book, a fictional location, but I was perpetually looking for clues as to where it was "really" set. As always reading this book has only increased my TBR, as I'm keen to read more Charlotte Wood. I've read two of her six novels now, four to go!

Charlotte Wood interviewed on RN The Book Show, where she refers to The Weekend as a "cautionary self portrait", and that the creative impulse of curiosity about the ageing process.