By: Graham Swift
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Four men once close to Jack Dodds, a London butcher, meet to carry out his peculiar last wish: to have his ashes scattered into the sea. For reasons best known to herself, Jack’s widow, Amy, declines to join them. On the surface the tale of a simple if increasingly bizarre day’s outing, Last Orders is Graham Swift’s most poignant exploration of the complexity and courage of ordinary lives.
You know my perchance for trying to read Man Booker prize nominees and winners when I have a chance 😉 I’ve long been eyeing this book, partly because I keep hearing it in passing (as well as seeing the author’s books whenever I’m in the bookstore). I recently got my hands on the Picador 40th anniversary edition.
Firstly, I thought the title was pretty clever; for some reason, I thought there was some religious meaning behind the title, but it made sense that it referred to calling up last round of drinks for the night at the pub, which Jack and his friends frequently did when he was alive. But you can also interpret the title as being Jack’s last request to his loved ones at the time of his death.
I was reading an interview with the author shortly after he won the Man Booker for this novel. There was a concern raised about how inaccessible this novel may be because of its “localness.” Unfortunately this I think was the main reason why I had some trouble getting through this novel; it didn’t resonate with me in a way I thought it would because I spent half the time not quite understanding what was going on in their lives enough to feel some measure of empathy or appreciation of the hundrums. There’s some universal themes running through the novel–friendship, the ups and downs in life, complications of relationships, the times they lived in–which was interesting, but there’s something about their lives that’s too elusive for me to appreciate.
In addition, I was having a weird time trying to keep track of all of the characters–who’s married to who, how so-and-so is related to that guy etc. The chapters go back and forth amongst the four friends as well as other people in Jack’s life, but despite gaining a glimpse of their inner lives and their experiences, I never really connected with any of them. Their odd sort of friendship was lovely though, their little road trip to fulfill Jack’s last wish a quiet sort of madness. There were some poignant moments, however, especially regarding a particular secret Amy holds and that Jack never broaches.
Overall, I liked the universal themes that this novel evokes, but otherwise as a reading experience I found Last Orders to be rather boring. Maybe I’ll fare better with the movie adaptation.