An old house on a cliff, a dead owner, three friends and Christmas. Jude, Wendy and Adele traditionally spend Christmas with Sylvie in her rackety-lovely house perched so high above the sea that the only way to reach it is in a contraption called an inclinator. But Sylvie has been dead for 11 months, and the three are there not to celebrate Christmas but rather to sort things out so that the house can be sold. It’s a setting for classic Christie. Or Hitchcock.
Except there will be no murder. Murder requires motivation and motivation requires plot. The Weekend (Allen & Unwin; $29.99) is a character study and an interrogation of the heart rather than a narrative in search of a plot.
With poise and originality Charlotte Wood discloses the lives of three women who are surprised by age. Isolated, in enforced closeness and with hourly confrontation of their own mortality, each woman must look at elements of past choices that have configured the present.
Jude has established a renowned Sydney restaurant. She is rail thin, obsessive, bossy. Truly unappealing. The only love of her life is a married man. Wendy is an academic, a widow, messy, focused on her work rather than her children. Truly irritating. She brings her failing old dog, Finn, with her, much to Jude’s disgust. Adele, who at first appears to be the least interesting, proves otherwise. An actor who had some fame, she is self-absorbed and puzzled that, despite her ravishing hair and charming behaviour, no one on the train to the coast recognises her. Truly exasperating.
The fourth friend, Sylvie, is as present in everyone’s thoughts as she is in her house. With her sweetness and generosity of heart, Sylvie was everyone’s favourite. Although it transpires that even she could betray.
These distinctive women might never have been friends, but when together something greater than their selves occurred, just as it does in a musical quartet. Such an ensemble works by enabling hidden knowledge and creating surprising alliances. It is exacting work, finding balance within the range of each instrument. Great quartets find, sometimes permanently, sometimes fleetingly, a mysterious quality that lifts a piece beyond the ordinary. Over this Christmas weekend the three women acknowledge that their quartet had central meaning in their lives. In it they found real intimacy.
This is a mightily accomplished work. Wood has created an intricate evocation of these anxious lives. Her central preoccupation are the questions: What have I lived for? What have I done with my one precious life? The unvarnished truth is that small acts of kindness defeat even core selfishness. For Jude, Wendy and Adele, the weekend is a sifting through what is important and what is not. Wood, in this engaging, stylish work, suggests that only by attending to the subtle ties involved in connection with others might there be an answer from the echoing void.
There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.
That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.
The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.
Select your digital subscription