The Natural Way of Things brought Charlotte Wood sensational success: an Australian bestseller, published internationally, winner of the 2016 Stella prize, and numerous other awards. The novel was sharply contemporary in its portrayal of women under duress and evolved into the unwilling sisterhood of The Weekend, our book of the month, also short listed for the Stella Prize in 2020.
The aging characters spend a weekend emptying the holiday house of a deceased friend, Sylvie, opening a number of issues formerly hidden. Wendy, a fading feminist academic, “impossibly but surely” looks like Patrick White as she ages, missing her dead husband, alienated from her adult children, devoted to her ancient dog. Jude organizes the group and methodically cleans the kitchen while Wendy tosses everything into garbage bags and Adele, an out-of-work broke actress with a great body (“for your age”), procrastinates among piles of clothes and records. The true fourth member of the ensemble is Wendy’s labradoodle, Finn, who, demented and deaf, spends the weekend pacing, peeing and threatening Jude’s cast-off white sofa.
Food plays a visceral part in the relationships. Every morsel is significant, from the predictable “stock cubes and tins of lentils” in Sylvie’s pantry, to Jude’s carefully roasted chicken, her prized pavlova and the Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup that Wendy drops into each champagne glass “like a blood clot”.
Baby boomers – and others – will recognize themselves in one or more of these believable characters, whom Wood deftly distinguishes without turning them into caricatures.
In an interview Charlotte Wood told how she “was interested in looking at the difference between how we see ourselves and how other people see us. We don’t necessarily recognise our own flaws while we’re very conscious of other people’s flaws. I find great pleasure in creating characters with that kind of complexity”.
Some readers were annoyed by the ‘childishness’ of the characters, but most felt that they recognised either themselves or their friends in the novel.
Behind the laughs there is deep humanity, intellect and spirituality, qualities that mark The Weekend as much more than old-chook lit.
With thanks to Susan Wyndham’s review in The Guardian.
Ratings: Janet, Pauline, and Diane 3.5; Lynda, Margie, Kim, Jenny, Nicola, Viv, Claudia and Sandie 3.
Hope to see you all there and happy reading!
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