”People went on about death bringing friends together, but it wasn’t true…” Reading this book made me think that the loss of a friend isn't all beer & skittles as it's depicted in so many movies. The outpouring of love at the wake - always at a pub, usually Irish - friends getting all misty eyed like on New Year's Eve, arms flung around each other's shoulders. Tears, anecdotes, laughter. Toasts to a great friend, sorely missed. But then the tears dry, and life goes on. Usually with soaring music playing. This is the aftermath. And much closer to reality. It's just gone twelve months since Sylvie's passing. Her partner Gail, has returned home to Ireland, and has given three of their friends Adele, Jude & Wendy the "opportunity" to clear out their beach house on Sydney's northern beaches before it's put up for sale. The carrot being they could keep whatever they wanted. But what material goods could they possibly want? Sylvie was the glue that held their friendships together. And without her, it's just a hodge podge of moving chess pieces as the ladies contemplate their lives and what they mean to each other. Along with all the dust & animal faecal matter that is stirred up as part of this cleanup, so are the friend's relationships. Resentments, both real & imagined, which have hardened to a callous over the years, are painful to the touch. And surface often. Secrets, lies and betrayals. That's the thing with a humid Sydney summer, you can't help but bare your teeth. Trust me on this. Hell, even Finn (Wendy's elderly dog) is at a loss. Walking around in circles. Staring blankly into space. This is raw. Life hurts. Often. The pains ooze off the pages. I appreciate how gently the nuances of characters and the story is handled. Yet despite it all, Adele, Jude & Wendy remain fiercely loyal to each other. Though the elastic of their friendship is stretched it never snaps and breaks. We see glimmers of happier times, good times, from their meeting in their 20s, through to life changes which in turn affected their friendship(s) in their 30s, 40s and beyond. Now in their 70s, each of the women remaining in this friendship circle cannot help but take stock. ” …my life has not been what I believed it to be.” This is a weekend you will not forget. We gain insights into these women's psyches, their triumphs and losses. What's brought them to this point. And how damn hard it is to grow old. "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." This made me ponder the imponderables. The big questions, for which there are no answers. The stuff that keeps you awake at nights. I kept thinking which of these women I’m most like. The good bits, the aggravating, the quirks. ”At times she felt on the edge of discovering something very important – about living, about the age beyond youth and love, about this great secret time of a person’s life.” I really loved this book. I mean really loved. It spoke to me on so many levels. I shed a tear. I smiled. I recognized people and events. I know the cleansing effects of the sea. It's so real. What seems like a deceptively simple story, is way more complex due to the characters being portrayed with such honesty and compassion. I truly wish I'd had the opportunity to read this in one sitting as I felt so invested in the characters. I can absolutely imagine just sitting back for an arvo with a big cuppa at the ready, and reading it from cover to cover. That's how it made me feel. Loved 💜 Absolutely. The ending is perfection.
Sylvie’s death has left Jude contemplating her own steady decline. She thinks that her frontal lobe is inevitably shrinking, she wonders what will happen if she dies in her sleep, in her bed. Sylvie had been buried eleven months ago. They used to be a quartet, but Sylvie’s death has transformed them into a triumvirate. Jude is not even sure the three surviving members of the friendship can survive without Sylvie. Jude was a restaurateur and quite a famous one. Wendy is a well known opinionated intellectual, and Adele a once famous theatre actress. The memorial for Sylvie had been in the restaurant. Wendy, naturally being a well-known public speaker gave a wonderfully, honest poetic speech. Jude catches herself wondering how long it takes a corpse to rot and realises that Sylvie would be horrified at such a thought.
The title of the book is called “The Weekend” because the threesome left from the quartet are going to spend the weekend going through Sylvie’s stuff and clean up her beach house before it goes up for sale. It is Christmas weekend. Adele catches herself again wondering morbid thoughts, this time which of the three remaining friends would be the next to go. Although Wendy and Adele are her closest friends now, she still feels that Sylvie was the glue that kept the group from splintering apart, an integral cog in the machine of their friendship. She wonders how this weekend is going to go without Sylvie there, well maybe in spirit form. Jude puts it best herself, “Sylvie’s death had opened up strange caverns of distance between them”. Without Sylvie there we find the girls constantly bickering and easily antagonised. Simple quips morph into horrible accusations resulting in heated arguments. Each woman wants Sylvie back, but for different reasons. The perspective will change between the three women, sometimes mid chapter, but it is written very well and works superbly. The change in perspective gives the reader not only access to the characters thoughts about Sylvie, but their thoughts about each other. All three women are completely different, but they share one common trait. In their halcyon years they all were strong dominant women, all were major identities in their field of work and lives. However now they are in their seventies, the halcyon years a distant memory. Jude’s first thought as she is the first to arrive at the house is “Typical”. Of the three, she has always been the most practical, the most grounded, the one to turn to in a storm. It appears that nobody has been there since Sylvie died. The air in the house is dank and whiffs of mildew assail the nose. On the way to the house Wendy’s old car breaks down and she finds herself thinking about Sylvie. It is obvious that all these three women not only loved her very much, but raised her to almost mythical status, placed her on a pedestal. Whenever a problem arose, they would all think, what would Sylvie do, or if Sylvie was here, she would take care of it. Adele who is still on the train in transit is thinking about a show she saw on tv about elderly homeless people forced to sleep in their cars. She frets that she may soon become one of these people and yet she does not even own a car. On the surface Adele is self-absorbed and vain, still the prima donna artist, picking on the appearance of the lady who takes a seat next to her. She appears to be about the same age as Adele, but she is dressed so plainly. Adele would not be caught dead in the dress this lady wears. Yet inside, behind the brightly coloured titanium outer shell now lives an insecure frightened woman. In her youth, Adele was a theatre star, her face adorned posters everywhere, her face recognised by just about everybody she passed in the street. And yet now, at 72, things have changed dramatically. Adele was an artist and lived the life of an artist, spending her money as soon as it was in her hands, not once giving a thought for the future. Adele used to live in her own world where she is still the theatre darling. But more and more the walls of this world are being shattered and reality seeping through. She has come to realise that the current generation do not even know who she is. Adele is passing her days living in the moment hoping her financial problems will just somehow miraculously fix themselves. However. it is not just Adele who has problems, all the women are plagued by anxiety and insecurities. Wendy is lonely and is desperately worried, knowing that the death of her beloved dog Finn is approaching fast. She berates herself for not having the courage to have him put to sleep, fearing that he is in pain. Finn is a wonderful character, and yes, he is an old dog on his last legs. At times Finn feels like a metaphor for the relationship that now exists between the three women minus Sylvie. A relationship that is breaking down and close to expiring. Jude is still the rock of the friends, but she is not without her demons either. She frets, there is a lot of fretting going on in this novel, about an affair that she is in, and when it will end. Once they have all arrived and start cleaning the house, they find that different items, pieces of furniture, records, books, all initiate different memories. Different memories for each woman. This novel is not just about the three friends dealing with the grief of losing their friend but about each of them dealing with growing older, bodies slowing down, things not working as well as they did, and sadly but inevitably their own mortality. A story about loneliness and the power of friendship. It is beautifully written and the sudden shock revelation of a long held secret leads to a surprisingly climactic ending. Wood also has a talent for hiding parts of the narrative away, luring the reader away from pivotal points, only to bring them back alarmingly later in the story. The metaphorical ending is simply brilliant. A wonderful book. 5 Stars.
So our first buddy read for 2020 and we both gave it 5 stars so we have our second perfect 10. Thoroughly deserved and it will be interesting to see if it makes it to the Stella shortlist.