Review: The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison

The Last Weekend tells the story of Ian and Em, a seemingly everyday couple, with everyday values and everday lives. It tells the story of a stiflingly hot August bank holiday weekend away in the English countryside with old friends, Ollie and Daisy. Despite having not seen each other for a number of years, the two couples aim to revive old friendships, offer up new revelations, and spend a relaxing weekend together, taking a break from the woes of real life. And it turns out just like that. Sort of.

I’ll be honest, I couldn’t help but snore at a good chunk of the start of this book. It seemed that Ian and Em’s supposedly bland and boring life was seeping through the pages and infecting the story itself, and there were few – if any – pointers towards what was to come. So they’re going to spend the weekend with old school buddies? Whoopie-do. Got to be more to it though, I told myself, with a stern tone of voice. And there was, given a chance and a little time.

In fact, lots happens, and the reader is pulled into a twisting, chilling, turning, dark adventure that they aren’t really sure whether to believe. Ian, you see, is the epitome of unreliable narrators and although he sucks you nicely in at the beginning (as he did his wife, Ollie, Daisy, and the rest), you soon begin to doubt his account of the tale. In some places, it’s even plainly evident that what’s actually happening is quite the opposite to what the narrator claims is happening – quite a clever technique that, fair play Mr. Morrison.

Whilst reading, I couldn’t help but get the feeling of classics (cheesy or otherwise) such as Abigail’s PartyAn Inspector Calls, or even If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (although, for the latter, with a lot less poetic beauty and a little more depth of prose). They’re stories that are almost a nothingness – they’re about nothing but about everything at the same time, stories that are slow (and perhaps a tad confusing) to start but leave you breathless by the end, with twists and turns that would have seemed utterly impossible to begin with –  and that’s just what The Last Weekend did for me.

Ask me what it’s about and I’m not really sure I could tell you, other than that they are on a weekend away. Having said that though, it’s a story about love and hate, jealousy and pride. Morrison captures emotions so truly that they glow through the pages and the one that shines out most is that hot and sweaty, cooped-up-with-the-same-people-for-three-days kind of irritation that is so hard to pinpoint and explain in real life, let alone through words on a page. I think it’s this talent that makes this book what it is – the story gets better as it goes along, the characters are okay but for the most part utterly unlikeable, the unreliable narrator technique is done well and is interesting, but it’s the way that Morrison brings these characters alive through emotion, and the way that he puts the reader right into the middle of that sweaty, sticky, stifling house that really makes this book what it is.

If you’re looking for a gritty, gripping story, one that’s obvious and easily pulls you along, this isn’t for you. And if you’re looking to fall in love with the characters and hunt down your next ficional friend, it’s not for you either. But if you enjoy well written prose, an extremely well written unreliable narrator, and that rather clever snapshot of real life and real emotion, this book will do you well – just be sure to push past the first 50-odd pages first – they’re important, but a little stiff.

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