Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 9, 2020

2020 Yarra Valley (online) Writers Festival: The Weekend, with Charlotte Wood and Amanda Smith


Charlotte Wood is now one of our best known writers, with a very high profile since winning the Stella Prize for The Natural Way of Things (2015).  But I’ve been reading her novels since The Submerged Cathedral (2004) which I read before starting ANZLitLovers, while The Children (2007) and Animal People (2011) are reviewed on this blog. I thought The Natural Way of Things was an important book, but was pleased to see what I interpret as a return to form with her more subtle and deliciously complex The Weekend. So I am pleased to hear Wood talk about this novel, and am hoping to hear about what she’s writing next.

Amanda Smith from ABC radio began by talking about how each of the women characters in The Weekend is in a precarious position, whether they know it themselves or not.  Wood read an excerpt about the ageing actor Adele, who is beginning to realise how vulnerable she is, with no financial security, not even a home.  This excerpt also shows Jude and her cool panache, and the way in which these friends came together but were now drifting.  Without their friend Sylvie they don’t fit any more.  Four friends sharing two adjacent hotel bedrooms have turned into two together, and then someone left over and alone. Adele feels bereft, and poor, and alone, and is full of regrets that she has never really been asked about the things that matter to her. She is a bit self-deluded but there’s also truth in what she feels.

Amanda asked: Is friendship in one’s 30s easier than friendship as we get older?  Wood says she wrote it as a kind of cautionary self-portrait, though she was quick to say that she isn’t yet the age of the characters in the novel.  Friends when you’re younger can be a kind of movable feast, with people falling in and our of love and relationships, and then things settle down.  As we get older we discover each other’s flaws, people change differently and others resent that or don’t want any change at all.  The feeling is that people think that they really know a person, like siblings do, and there aren’t any illusions.

Amanda suggested that bookclubs are often composed of older female friends, and so The Weekend might be perfect for them, but then there are the illusions and delusions that the novel exposes that might be quite confronting for book club friends to be thinking about each other. Wood knows that some people don’t like her characters: she herself likes people who are spiky and say what they think even if it’s uncomfortable, she doesn’t want to write about people who are sweet and loving and bake cupcakes for each other.  The women in her novel are all grieving and they are less tactful than they usually are,  but they do love each other.  She’s amused by people who come up to her and whisper that they are ‘Jude’ and they’re proud of it because Jude has ‘standards’.  So there are desirable qualities in all of her characters…

Amanda asked: Why did Wood want to write about older women? Wood says that sometimes authors don’t realise why they’re writing something until afterwards.  Both Wood’s parents died in their fifties, so now she feels that she is older than they ever were.  She had thought, consciously and unconsciously that her life would be over by the same age and she had never thought about what it would be like to be 70 or 80. She found herself wondering what it would be like, to be in that age group, with tricky problems to solve.  How do people have long term friendships that survive into that age? We think that we become our real selves — but what does that mean for friendship because you need to be malleable and have the empathy to understand friends’ PoVs?

Amanda suggested that none of these women have thought much about transitioning out of their stellar careers.  There’s not much in fiction about older women who are not grandmothers or matriarchs, and Wood (who doesn’t have children) wanted to explore that.  Even Wendy who has children doesn’t really have a good relationship with her children and doesn’t fit the image of older women that is often represented in the media.  The other feature that she wanted to explode was that we come to know ourselves better as we get older, when it’s not always true.  The novel shows us the transitions that men have always had to negotiate, ending a career, having a role in old age and so on.

The role of Finn, the ancient, decrepit dog, who is demented and vulnerable, derived from a fellowship at the Charles Perkins Centre in Sydney.  The fellowship is about writers being in contact with scientists and she found herself talking about her book in a way that she doesn’t normally while it’s in draft form.  Someone suggested that there should be some evolutionary biology in the novel, and she took that on board: the ageing of animals is accelerated compared to humans, so putting an animal into the novel would be an interesting thing to do.  And then a friend’s dog also called Finn had to be put down because its time had come, and she wanted to show what the future of ageing could look like, to women who think that ageing is irrelevant to them and have like most people in our society have a terror of it.   Each of the women has an epiphany to do with Finn, and he became a wonderful way of provoking confrontation among them as well, depending on their reactions to him.

Referencing The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, Amanda talked about how she likes books that conjure up a house.  They often feature in dreams (as in Last night I went to Manderley…) so what’s the role of the house?  Wood says that houses are useful for representing an essential self, but they also represent turf and territory and who rules the roost.  None of these three women characters own the house, but each of it feels a sens of kinship with it, and that it ought to be treated in a certain way and the others aren’t doing it quite right.  The pristine white sofa that Jude gave as a castoff is a catalyst for the problems that arise in this rather ramshackle holiday place, and to explore what’s old and what’s new and what can be salvaged and what should be rescued.

As I said in my intro, this is a deliciously complex book and there is much to think about.  I get the impression that Charlotte could have told us much more if there had been time.


Ok, it’s time to put my feet up and enjoy our usual Saturday night pre-dinner cocktail, so I’d better end here. Thank you to those who’ve stuck with me all encouraged me with a ‘like’ or a comment.  It’s been a long day but I’ve loved sharing it with you this way.

A final word of thanks to all the sponsors of this event and you can be sure that we will make our way up to the Yarra Valley as soon as the restrictions are lifted.


Responses

  1. Lisa, you are amazing!!!!. I don’t know how you managed to write and listen at the same time. (You probably weren’t checking your emails and skipping around on other tabs like I was). I’ve made links to your much more coherent reviews on my own very scrappy post. Have a post-dinner drink as well- you deserve it!

    Like

    • LOL I read something the other day about how multitasking mostly means doing more things badly, so I decided I was not going to do it!

      Like

  2. You really are a legend Lisa. Thanks as always.

    Like

  3. Can you believe that I have never read Charlotte Wood?

    Like

  4. Thank you! I loved The Weekend and really enjoyed your reflections of this interview :)

    Like

  5. Thanks Lisa. This was terrific. I love The Weekend and enjoyed this piece.

    Like

    • It was a great session. Amanda did a great job of leading the conversation, because (let’s face it) Charlotte Wood has done a lot of presentations and interviews about this book, and yet the conversation offered something new:)

      Liked by 1 person


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