The Weekend by Charlotte Wood
Four friends whose lives have remained intertwined for decades are forced to re-evaluate their friendships and their lives when one of them dies. Now in their seventies, they have arranged to meet at the beachside cottage of the recently-deceased to clean out her house in preparation for sale.
It sounds simple enough, but Charlotte Wood’s latest novel is eviscerating in its clarity. So much so that the reader – of a certain age – will almost certainly recognise herself, her friends, her habits and her faults. All is laid bare by Wood in this wonderful book about friendship and love.
The friends: Sylvie, whose death they have gathered to honour; Jude – a once-famous Sydney restaurateur; Adele, a still glamourous but now mostly unemployed actress; and Wendy – an internationally-acclaimed academic; all are graphically portrayed by Wood.
Instantly identifiable and delightfully described, they could be any one of us – even if our lives are less than famous. We all know someone as vain and self-centred as Adele, someone as selfish and angry as Jude; and someone as cerebral and vague as Wendy. Which one we identify the most with may fluctuate throughout the book as each character reveals their inner world.
All have faults. And all are dogged by their own particular Achilles heel, their own blind spot and their own miserable failings. But now there is an added complication to add to their human frailties – old age.
Each of the women is in her own way struggling to remain relevant in a society which is pervasively ageist. No longer able to rely on their novelty, their beauty or their brilliance, the women are each fighting their own demons. And all are struggling to relate without Sylvie, beautiful Sylvie, who formed a bridge between them.
This book affected me deeply and personally. As one for whom female friendship was a salve for all the wounds etched by marriage and childbirth and divorce and death, I understand now what it is to reach this age of reflection and introspection.
Someone once said “Don’t look back, it’s not where you’re going.” And that is a universal truth until you reach a certain age where looking forward is less of an option. Charlotte Wood captures this point in her perfect portrayal of the ups and downs of enduring female friendships as we age.
I love this book. It is an essay for the living and an ode to the dead.
Reviewer: Peta Stavelli
Allen & Unwin $32.99