The Weekend, Charlotte Wood

Brona’s AusReadingMonth Bingo, November 2019 – [NSW]

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The Weekend is a novel about three 70ish women cleaning the beach house of their dead friend. And the thing is, I’m within 2 or 3 years of their age and Charlotte Wood (1965-  and looks younger on Facebook) isn’t. Wood no doubt has all or some of mother, mothers-in-law, aunts, friends, colleagues to draw on, and I’m sure she gets women, but I don’t think she gets 70, an opinion I also had about another much lauded novel, Extinctions by Josephine Wilson.

On the other hand, towards the end one of the characters muses:

People thought when you got old you wanted your lost youth, or lost love, or men or sex. But really you wanted work and you wanted money.

Well, she got that right!

I loved The Natural Way of Things and I was ready to love The Weekend, but that’s not the way it has worked out. Wood has a clear, not particularly literary, style of writing which suited TNWoT, with its compelling story line of young women in indefinite detention for being the victims of men they trusted. The Weekend is the story of just three women, at the other end of their adult lives – or so Wood would have us believe though I personally am looking forward, like my parents and grandparents, to a couple more decades of activity – but again without men at this time, and having been with men they should not have trusted as much as they did. It’s a smaller story which needed better writing and character development to carry it off.

The protagonists are Wendy, a public intellectual, Jude, a retired restaurant manager, and Adele, an actress. They all live in Sydney, and the novel opens with them making their separate ways to the fictional community of Bittoes on the Central Coast (the rocky and spectacularly beautiful coast between Sydney and Newcastle, 160 kms north), where their lately deceased long time friend Sylvie had a beach house, which they had often used together and separately, and which they have been asked by Sylvie’s partner, now safely home in Dublin, to clean up for sale.

Wendy lives comfortably off the sales of her erudite books, and plans to write more. She is overweight, and a bit stereotypically, is sloppy in her person and in her housekeeping. She has an old car, which breaks down on the way to Bittoes, and in which she is trapped while “road trains” roar past, while her old dog pisses on her lap. Wendy, now a widow, had been in a loving marriage for many years, and has two children, by an earlier marriage, who appear to blame her for something.

Jude is uptight and bossy and has been the mistress for 40 years of a banker whose principal relationships are with his wife and children and grandchildren. She has no presence other than as a storm cloud around which the others navigate.

Adele, is small with a good body, is still amazingly supple, hasn’t been offered a part for more than a year, is or was in a relationship with another woman, and is also stereotypical in her narcissism and dependence on others.

She would wear black, very simple – or no, charcoal. With some stylish sleeve detail, but fitted so that you could see her figure, which was still really very lovely. People said that to Adele often. You have a lovely figure. Which meant, you have terrific tits. For your age.

I think the author’s intention was to explore the notion of friendship, not a subject to which I have given a great deal of either thought or practice.

The thirties were the age you fell most dangerously in love, Adele had discovered, after the fact. Not with a man or a woman, but with your friends. Lovers back then came and went like the weather … No, it wasn’t lovers but friends – these courageous, shining people – you pursued, romanced with dinners and gifts and weekends away. It was so long ago. Forty years!

Wood appears to confusing my generation with hers. Baby boomers were too busy, and too poor, in their thirties, with partners and children, to be “romancing” friends.

Anyway, the three women spend the long weekend over Christmas, cleaning, or not cleaning, reviewing their lives, being bossed about by Jude, bickering, and briefly, relaxing on the beach. Adele bumps into a rival, more successful older actress at a restaurant and invites her and her 40 ish producer partner to dinner. Where everything comes to a head, including the weather (Wood shows some restraint, and doesn’t throw in a bushfire).

The air was all electricity. They were suspended, Wendy pinned on the couch, Jude and Adele each separate, adrift. None could reach the other. The door was still open and the rain swept in; darkness had swallowed up the room.

Nothing is resolved, the dog doesn’t die. Wendy feels vaguely she must do something to find out what it is that so bothers her children about their upbringing. Adele has no visible means of support for the coming year. Jude we don’t know enough about to care. The late Sylvie, whose absence might have been expected to be the centre of the novel, barley makes a showing. The friendship, having lasted this long only through inertia, would seem to have nowhere to go.

 

Charlotte Wood, The Weekend, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2019

Other Reviews:
Kate, booksaremyfavouriteandbest (here)
Kim, Reading Matters (here)
Lisa, ANZLitLovers (here)

28 thoughts on “The Weekend, Charlotte Wood

  1. I read this as soon as it came out and I’m yet to write a review (it’s coming) – my feelings were very different from yours Bill, perhaps altered by my experience of female friendships that are decades long (in fact, I have a group of four and we’ve been close for 35 years) – Wood’s depiction of the dynamics in the relationship between the women felt very, very real to me.

    The other thing that I thought she captured well was the invisibility of women after a certain age. Most of my friends reckon this happens in your mid-forties – I haven’t felt this keenly (it’s there but doesn’t dominate) but I think that’s partly because (like Helen Garner), I use my ‘invisibility’ to my advantage, including spending a lot of time talking to strangers on the tram!

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    • I don’t know how you write reviews some time later after reading, you must take good notes. I know Weekend is getting good reviews so I guess there is something about the women’s friendship which appeals. Apart from my obtuseness about friends I wonder if it’s a generational thing.

      I’m sure you’re not invisible, chatting to strangers on trams; sexual invisibility I didn’t notice in the book and, though it’s a subject for a much longer debate, I think it has been lessened by online dating; employment invisibility- now there’s a problem!

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      • Oddly, I don’t take any notes! I need the book to ‘settle’ and for the key messages to float to the surface, if that makes sense.

        I thought one of the most interesting elements of the book was the examination of the women’s identities as individuals as opposed to within the context of their families and partners (or lack of families/ partners). Particularly the character of Wendy who clearly felt she’d been lacking as a mother and yet as an academic she flourished – there was something there that rubbed for Wendy. I guess I thought this bit was interesting because my oldest friends have known me long before I met my husband or had my kids – I wonder how important that history is in friendships…

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      • I’ve always regretted that I moved around so much as a kid (and consequently as an adult). I kept my kids in one place throughout their school and they (now 40 ish) have best friends from kindergarten.

        I noticed that Wood writes about women without men around and I should have said something about it.

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      • Bill, I also struggle to write reviews if I wait too long. I’ll highlight things, and I’m pretty good at remembering why I highlighted something. But, my feelings mellow out if I wait too long, and I no longer feel passionately in any way about a book that isn’t unbelievably memorable. Typically, the books I remember best are those that I read aloud to my spouse, likely because I’m doing voices, we spend a long time on any given book, and we also talk about it as we go.

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      • Melanie, that’s pretty much how I feel about reviewing. Audiobooks in particular I think about review angles while I’m listening but by halfway through the next book they’re gone. Books I read and review I remember for a bit longer, but it’s only the books I’ve researched, which means mostly Miles Franklin, that I remember well enough to discuss a year later. I can imagine reading aloud AND discussing has the same effect.

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    • I’m always highly jealous of people who have decades-long friendships. Even a show like Sex & The City can set my jealousy running full force. I think part of it was my friends and I came of age when the economy in the United States died, and as a result it was almost impossible to stay where you were and find a job. We’re all scattered to the seven seas, and while we all got married, I didn’t have children, which has created a rift (not one I created through some silly anti-children feelings, but one that developed nonetheless). My friends seem to think I wouldn’t attend their children’s birthday parties or hang out at the park with them while their children play. Moving, of course, sealed the deal, and I’ve lost touch with my friends, who are busy with toddlers.

      However, I’m not sure how friendship in one’s 70s would work. Are these friends from high school? Ones who have developed in the year’s since? I know one thing my great-grandma bemoaned is that the older you get, the faster your friends die, and then you have to make new friends to replace them.

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      • To start at the end, I don’t think age makes that much difference. I’m nearly 70 and mum – I’m staying with her for a couple of days – is nearly 90, but I think our friendship patterns have been largely unchanged throughout our adult lives. She has a mix of friends from girls she grew up with to women, mostly mothers, she met in all the country towns we lived in, to other old ladies where she lives now. The one group she’s lost is my late father’s work friends and their wives.

        I have always been careless of friends which means sooner or later they dropped off. Interestingly in the last few years I have regained friends from decades ago. I watch my kids, 2 of them partnerless and childless, and they seem to be doing ok with their friends from school, but I don’t know how they feel about losing the whole hanging out talking into the night thing.

        On reflection, the women in this book are the Sex in the City women 35 years later – urban and sophisticated – and a long way outside my experience.

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      • One of the good things about this book, if Bill’s post is any guide, is that it gets people talking about and noticing the friendships of older people.
        One thing I’ve noticed was that in my first marriage, our friends were mostly his friends. That is, I liked them, but the friendship derived from his friendship with them not mine. Now it is the reverse, most of the friends who join us for dinner or jaunts to the pictures or on shared holidays are my friends, whose company he enjoys too. The interesting thing about this is that although I’m not 70 yet, most of my friends are a bit, or a lot, older than I am. So not many of our friends are around my age or younger and we are trying to do something about that because I’ve always liked the company of my son and his friends, the different generations IMO have a lot to offer each other.

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      • I met a woman in her 70s back when I was taking an aquacize class. She invited me to her birthday party, this huge bash, that had more varieties of people than I have ever seen elsewhere in my life: hippies and goths, people from their teens to their 70s, photographers and house wives and factory workers. It was evidence of a life splendidly lived, and I wanted to be just like her. I completely agree with you that intergenerational friendships are important, especially since in the U.S. we have a thing about punching at other generations. “Millennial” is practically a curse word, and some goofball said on the news that “boomer” is the new n-word because young people are now saying “ok, boomer” in a dismissive way. You’ve made me think of my swimming friend, Lisa, and I thank you for that. I’m going to see what I can do about reaching out to find more friends who are in a different generation from me.

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  2. I went to see Charlotte Wood discuss this book at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart a few days ago. I bought the book and look forward to reading it. She talked a lot about the dog representing the various stages of life, aging and dementia older people can get. And howmothers view that aging, fear, affection, etc. While I listened to her talk the thought “she doesn’t understand when you’re 70 you don’t approach it as a 56 (her age) yr old would).” Interesting you picked up on that. As the audience was mostly women over the age of 65 I also noticed she made no eye contact with her audience. She seemed to me an odd woman at times as she talked about aging. It’s interesting you didn’t write about all the symbolism she attributes to the dog and life. I am turning 70 today, as it turns out, and rightly so I have a great deal planned for the future that I too don’t think a 56 yr old ‘gets!’. 🤠🐧🐕

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    • Well first of all, of course, Happy Birthday! I’m answering you ‘out of turn’ I know, but I think you address on my behalf some of the concerns Kate raised in her thoughtful comment above. I did think vaguely about the dog being old & decrepit but I mostly don’t get symbolism, and anyway lots of people in their 80s and 90s age quietly and gracefully .

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      • I’ve been hopeless at symbolism since I first heard of it probably in grade 7 (chuckle). I get tired of old people jokes, cartoons , etc. There is no reason why the majority of old people can’t keep being intelligent, social and productive, unless of course there is a mind set. I’m always waving the flag for old people. Thank you for the birthday wishes. 🤠🐧

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    • The poor old dog was pretty close to dying by the end, and we we were clearly meant to be in favour of euthenazing it, a bit of a worry if Wood was drawing an analogy between the dog and people in their 70s.

      The book won’t be a flop, though I’ll be very interested to see if there is a generation gap in its appreciation.

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  3. I really liked this book cos it’s so rare to read about friendships this way and especially rare when they’re in their 70s. I admit I couldn’t see my mother in this circle of friends, because Wood’s characters are all rather sophisticated and non-domestic, if that makes sense. But I liked the push and pull between them all and the petty squabbles etc. They all felt authentic characters to me.

    Interestingly, I’ve never had a close circle of female friends myself, perhaps because I’ve not had children (most people with kids seem to make friends via parents clubs and mothers groups etc) but also because I’ve largely worked with men. And also the Brits are hard nuts to crack. I think it was about 5 years before anyone English suggested we go on an outing that didn’t involve a drink in the pub after work. The friends I do have are largely younger than me (and are yet to have kids) or older than me (kids have left home). I have just one friend who’s the same age.

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    • It’s good, isn’t it, the way Wood has made us reflect on how friendships work in our own lives. I can see, now, that she must have wanted to picture a lifetime of friendship for ‘new’, post-womens lib, women, women not defined by wife-hood and motherhood. I still think that a denser writing style would have better suited her spare subject matter, but the comments and particularly yours and Kate’s which saw something other than age, have made me think more about what she did succeed at rather than what she didn’t.

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      • Dense writing isn’t her style. I’ve read her entire back list. She has a distinctive prose style that feels light but there’s a lot going on underneath. The Submerged Cathedral is really indicative of her soft-touch but has a really evocative poetic element to it.

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