“My life has has not been what I believed it to be.”
In The Weekend by Charlotte Wood, Jude, Wendy, Adele and Sylvie have been friends for over forty years, since their shared days in Oxford. Now all living in Australia, they gather each year at Sylvie’s beach house for Christmas. This year, however, Jude, Wendy and Adele gather to clean the house, ready for sale, because Sylvie has died.
In a plot reminiscent of The Big Chill, the loss of their friend disturbs the balance in the group, and old grievances, disappointments and secrets are explored and revealed. Wood uses this claustrophobic setting to ruminate on the side-effects (some tragic, some comedic) of growing old. The humidity and stifling heat create a literal and metaphoric hot-house of emotions, brought to a climax by a violent summer storm.
There are passages in The Weekend that are truly sublime, for example: ’[Wendy] felt ashamed, because it seemed to her that the rich detail of the world was precious, but she only knew this after she had missed it. It had been the case all her life…she realised she had not paid enough attention, and now those things were just outlines; gone.’ Adele, whose work as an actress dried up after she reached ‘a certain age’, ‘at times feels 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.’
It’s sometimes hard to like these women. Woods has created characters who are teetering very close to being stereotypes – and not very likeable. Jude is particularly critical of the others, and I kept wondering why they’ve all remained friends. There seems to be more shared frustration and anger than love and support. What keeps these women together? Then Adele answered my question; ’they saw their best selves in each other’.
A special mention must be made of Wendy’s ageing dog Finn, who poignantly reminds the women of the indignity of growing old (and incontinent) and unlovely. Finn is the star of this book, and certainly the most loveable character. However, I ultimately grew to love them all by the end of the weekend. Highly recommended.