The Weekend by Charlotte Wood


I came upon this book in a listing of “beach reads,” and having read two other Charlotte Wood books, I was surprised by that category. The Natural Way of Things is a feminist polemic and very affecting. The Weekend is centered on three women going to a beach north of Sydney over the Christmas weekend (beach weather in Australia). Sounds like a beach read so far.

But no. The three have gathered to clear out the beach house of the recently deceased Sylvie who made the fourth in this quartet of friends who are in their 70s. From the outset the difficult or unpleasant parts of their selves are in evidence. Jude is presented as a famous restaurant owner, but she is dismissed as glorified waitress whose married lover bankrolled her. She is relentlessly bossy and judgmental. Wendy made her way as a much respected academic, but now can’t manage to get her ancient dog out of her broken-down car before he pees on her. And Adele, the still attractive but now broke, actress is pushed out of her lover’s house just as she is leaving for the beach.

Their interactions rub along somewhere between unpleasant to disastrous. I couldn’t discern their grief for the loss of their friend, the basis for the lifelong friendships, or forgiveness for their current situations. The dog Finn plays an interesting role. He was given to Wendy by Sylvie when Wendy’s husband died and he turned out to be a lifesaver for her. While his near-death state drives Jude and Adele to distraction, each of them has a moment of being mesmerized by him in some nearly mystical way.

One particular oddly placed adjective told me the message of the whole overwhelmed sensible story-telling. During a precise description of Jude’s preparation of the chicken to be roasted for dinner, the chicken is described as “dead.” Coming to terms with Sylvie’s death and with Finn’s imminent death, and their own coming deaths, is perhaps the point for these characters, but describing a supermarket chicken as dead doesn’t advance that message.

Each has an awful or truly awful experience while they are together and there is a period of connection and the book ends with some warmth. I loved the other two books that I have read by her which were quite different from each other but wonderful in their own ways.

Charlotte Wood, The Weekend, W&N, 2020, 320 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available from Amazon.

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