The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

The first DIY Woman book review – I hope it will open up a discussion about books that helps create a connection for those who love to read.

I’ve wanted to read The WeekendCharlotte Wood‘s latest book – ever since I heard about it on Radio National’s The Bookshelf. Its basic premise – the 30-year friendship of four women, a weekend away after the death of one of them – was one that appealed to me.

Book cover of The Weekend by Charlotte Wood including the silhouette of a dog

As a veteran of girls’ weekends away, I was sure I’d love it.

I tried to convince two of my regular weekend adventurers to read it simultaneously. From our respective places of isolation, it seemed like an opportunity to connect. I’ve always wanted to have a Pop-Up book group – a low-stress BYO-drinks-and-nibbles get-together to talk about a book on everyone’s to-be-read pile. Coronavirus has made it even easier: we wouldn’t even have to leave our loungerooms.

A pair of glasses atop an open book next to a glass of red wine
Photo by Aliis Sinisalu on Unsplash

Sadly, The Weekend wasn’t on their TBR piles. And so it went the way of my last low-maintenance book group idea. Our monthly get-together to read a spontaneously selected short story never quite eventuated.

Having just finished the book, I’m glad I didn’t win that argument.

The setting of The Weekend is a beach house owned by Sylvie, one of four 70-something women whose friendship has gone back forty years. The other three – Jude (ex-restaurateur), Adele (out-of-work actress) and Wendy (public intellectual) – gather together two days before Christmas to ready the house for sale following Sylvie’s death.

It touches on topics of great interest to me: older women, the ageing process and friendship. The women have all been high achievers in their fields and are coming to terms with their loss of standing. Age has been kinder to some than others, both financially and physically.

Central to the plot is the friendship between the three surviving women.

And it’s the nature of their friendship that troubled me. The three women seem mildly irritated with each other all the time. Their reunion after what appears to be a long absence is unaffectionate. Maybe it’s the enforced lack of physical contact that has made me especially sensitive, but where are the hugs and throwing around of arms?

Two wooden dummy figures hugging
Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

Wood’s characters are a buttoned-up bunch. They keep their vulnerabilities well hidden from each other, and sometimes from themselves. It’s made clear that the dead Sylvie was the glue that held the group together, but her impact must have been stronger than araldite. And while I’ll concede there are women who form networks like this one, I would hesitate to call them friendships.

The book picks up its stride when a couple of outsiders are thrown into the mix. Carefully controlled emotions bubble to the surface. Where Charlotte Wood excels is in her treatment of the devastation wrought when a fundamentally held truth is found to be a lie. The ending, however, belies the scale of this devastation. For this reviewer, it shortchanges the reader in the interests of tidying up a messy finale.

10 thoughts on “The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

  1. I, too, read this book after hearing about it on the Bookshelf. I thought the premise of the book was great and it was going to be a great weekend read. On starting the book I was excited to find its setting in an area just north of Sydney. I have spent many happy holidays there with many special friends. I could imagine the house, the little set of shops, the restaurant on the corner etc.
    But I, too, got sick of the characters and their meanness to each other and the fact that they didn’t like the dog, though old and smelly it might have been. There was a horrible competitiveness between them and secret relationships never discussed in 30 years of ‘friendship’.
    I didn’t bother to read to the end … too much else to read … life’s too short.

  2. I too read this book and approached it with some excitement and expectation after the Bookshelf. Hopes soon to be dashed and yes, it was a trial to get to the end. Echoing yours and other’s comments about how difficult it was to engage with the characters and their competitive and judgmental relationships with each other. Currently re reading ” A Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks. Much more edifying!

  3. I must try it Iris. It’s funny – I thought I must be in the minority regarding The Weekend, but it seems I’m not. Sometimes the hype does the book a disservice if it’s undeserved.

  4. I was excited about this one, especially after devouring The Natural Way of Things. It unfortunately left me indifferent and unable to relate to any of the women. In an interview, Charlotte Wood said that all three women reflected parts of herself. Once I heard that, I shifted my perspective to consider all three women as actually one person. That made the story more interesting, but not very plausible.

  5. Hearing Charlotte Wood on The Bookshelf gave an author’s perspective and showed me how different it can be from a reader’s perspective. Wood was so fond of these characters – not surprising if their strengths and weaknesses were her own – and I so wanted to like at least one of them. Thank you for reminding me of that aspect of The Bookshelf interview Donata.

  6. as Iris says, Ib, you MUST read Year of Wonders – and everything else by Geraldine Brooks. She is a wonderful writer.

  7. I’m late to the party Liz but I concur! I couldn’t relate to these prickly ladies and as someone who recently looked after an old dog, the meanness to him was unforgivable!
    So much hype surrounds bestsellers and reviews. I am often disappointed with recommended books.
    Maybe I need to follow my instincts more. To be honest I’ve always followed my own path so why should books be different?

  8. Thanks for your comment Caz. Always better late than never. The writer in me wants to love a book like The Weekend by a highly recognised female Australian author. And if I don’t love it, the sisterhood of writers supporting other writers makes me inclined to shut up about it. On the other hand, the conversations I’ve had with other women about this book and by extension our lives have been really rewarding. So thank you for contributing to it and please do again. I don’t mind how late to the party you are, as long as you come.

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