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 Weekend – Charlotte 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.
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.
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?
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.