The Weekend by Charlotte Wood is a quietly confronting read. A female friendship character study brimming with symbolism, compelling & cathartic. Shortlisted for the 2020 Stella Prize and ALS Gold Medal.
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The Weekend Synopsis
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.
Having nothing but admiration for Charlotte Wood’s command of the written word after reading Nanoparticles and Animal People, I was keen to see her contemporary treatment of this Golden Girls-esque scenario. While that reference certainly shows my age, I make it with great respect… That 80s TV show lives long in the memory because it was a trailblazer.
The three women central to this story, The Weekend, are different from the crowd. Each in some way has taken a path less travelled. Even the elderly dog, the closest thing to a ‘leading man’ in this tale, is a Labradoodle. From this standpoint, Wood engenders both an innate strength, and reader intrigue, in these women’s life choices.
Wood is a master of symbolism. Everything from what each of these ladies pack for the weekend away, the way they travel to the beach house, even the rickety inclinator used to ascend to it (and their feelings toward that) are ripe with meaning.
An author whose writing I hold in similarly high regard, Heather Rose (The Museum of Modern Love, Bruny) has noted how unsettling this novel is in its capacity to encourage self-reflection. That was one of my biggest takeaways also.
The Weekend is deeply unsettling, and in turn compelling. Wood has tapped into the psyche of female friendship – the good, the bad, and the downright ugly – like no author I’ve read before. Through the brutal honesty of her character’s inner thoughts, she exposes the chess-like web of restraint, omission and self-justification that can be spun over the course of a lifetime.
In parallel though, with great empathy and spirit of renewal, she highlights our capacity to surprise not only friends and family but even ourselves no matter our age.
Laugh or cry
Response to any humour, but particularly dark farce is intrinsically linked to one’s own perspective. Given mortality is the resonant theme of this thought-provoking story, reader response to the humour within will heavily depend on age and personal experience. This includes the current health of your loved ones, even aging canine family members! You’ve been warned.
While superbly executed, at this time, my response to the moments of dark farce in The Weekend was not ‘laugh-out-loud’. My response was instead the ‘it’s either laugh or cry’ variety, that bursting well of emotion. This is literature that moves rather than entertains. Not enjoyable per se, but cathartic.
Harsh words shouted may bruise, but oftentimes it is words spoken softly in barely controlled emotion that cut us right to the core. Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend is a quietly confronting read.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 5 / 5 — Overall 4.5
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Genre: Literature, Drama, Mystery
About the Author, Charlotte Wood
Charlotte Wood has been described as ‘one of our most original and provocative writers‘. She is the author of six novels and two books of non-fiction. Her bestselling novel, The Natural Way of Things, won the 2016 Stella Prize, Indie Book of the Year and Indie Book Award for Fiction. It was joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, and published throughout Europe, the United Kingdom and North America. Charlotte Wood has been twice shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, as well as many others for this and previous works. Her non-fiction books include The Writer’s Room, a collection of interviews with authors about the creative process, and Love & Hunger, a book about cooking. She lives in Sydney with her husband. Check out her website and connect with her on Facebook.
* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.Updated