The Last Weekend – Blake Morrison

Paperback at Amazon.

Rather captured by the first episode of the recent TV adaptation of The Last Weekend and having personal issues with reading a novel after seeing its screen adaptation – I just can’t do it – the race was on to read a copy before seeing the next episodes.  Originally hooked via the TV and now having completed both, it’s fair to say that the adaptation is pretty faithful to the novel.  That hook is strongly present in the novel and has simply been extracted directly into the script.

Set over a long bank holiday weekend in August, golden couple Ollie and Daisy have rented a house and invited old friends Ian and Em to join them.  From the initial invitation – clumsily delivered – and through all subsequent events, we hear this story straight from Ian’s mouth.  You’d don’t have to turn the first page to feel the heavy blanket of foreboding crush down on your shoulders.  ‘Both were my friends,’ says Ian.  ‘I did love Ollie and Daisy,’ he adds.

As The Last Weekend unfolds, we learn that Ollie and Ian have a rivalrous friendship which took root in their university days.  Almost immediately, a longstanding bet is resurrected after some years of dormancy, one in which the stakes are raised as the weekend progresses.  But it’s not only in sport that Ollie displays his capacity for rivalry.  The underlying cracks in relationships soon become open, raw wounds as statements made appear to be lies or are proved to be lies.  Or so we may think.  Damning statements slipped into banter are the result of malicious opportunism in competition or carefully planned malign intent?

To read the story from Ian’s perspective is to view it through a kaleidoscope.  Just when we think we have a picture we can believe in, one new phrase or sentence arrives as another turn in the kaleidoscope.  And the reader has no control over the kaleidoscope.  Morrison’s craft of both words and story deliver a compelling and unsettling read.

In this psychological thriller, we cross the lines to see considerable human ugliness in some of the characters.  But when exploring the backstory, the university days, it is not beyond our ken to find sympathy with them.  Can the experiences of their younger selves – all too familiar to many of us, perhaps – cause such long lasting damage in adulthood?

Wonderfully, The Last Weekend’s plot proves not to be anywhere near as obvious as the reader might anticipate.  Before Ian and Em have even arrived in East Anglia, Morrison has long ago chucked the plotting satnav into the North Sea to be filleted by ferries.  Yes, The Last Weekend avoids clichés in its denouement, keeping it fresh.

To those who have watched the series and wonder if there’s any point in reading the book now, I say yes, do it.  The novel will give you more backstory, a greater build of the characters, and most of all, a greater sense of ambiguity.  Words make for a more comprehensive exploration of ambiguity, where images on screen may paint in your conclusion for you.  Indeed, I think you’ll find that some of your perceptions for the characters may change on reading…

Click on the image for a copy via Amazon.  Note that Vintage Books have now issued a PB with a cover to match the TV series.