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Last Orders by Graham Swift

Last Orders (original 1996; edition 1997)

by Graham Swift

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2,084333,172 (3.58)150
Title:Last Orders
Authors:Graham Swift
Info:Vintage (1997), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 304 pages

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Last Orders by Graham Swift (1996)

  1. 00
    Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray (celerydog)
    celerydog: A bunch of teen boys kidnap their friends Ross's ashes and take 'him' to Ross. Fun road trip, amazing insights via highly believable characters. Outstanding.
  2. 00
    Old Filth by Jane Gardam (chrisharpe)

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Twenty years on this book retains its resonance, the way it shows people struggling to come to terms with the way they’ve lived and continue to live their lives. It’s something the reader can readily relate to, not in the specifics but in the way we’re always trying to understand and justify ourselves. There are memorably thought-provoking bits like Ray’s ‘what a man does and how he lives in his head are two different things’ or the simple observations like the smile Lennie gives after going to the Gents – ‘like a man always can when he’s just emptied his bladder’. But it’s much more than this sort of thing that gives the book its lasting quality.

It’s partly the structure with the past emerging gradually and connections becoming clear – a novel where any suspense comes in finding out what has happened rather than wondering what will happen. And the contradictions and self-doubts, coming in the first person from the seven different accounts serves to confirm the way none of us can escape from this way of thinking. Though, having said that, Jack’s short section just shows him thinking about avoiding wastage when processing a carcass which seems to confirm Amy’s opinion of him as nothing more than a butcher, a man with very limited horizons and incapable of having a single thing to do with his incapacitated daughter. Since he’s the man whose ashes are being taken to be scattered from the pier at Margate and he has only than bare page from his point of view, the book retains more of a melancholic tone than one where we see how limited a man, such as Jack, can be.

And as well as the self-doubts we have the unhappy way in which they treat each other, especially the daughters of the four main characters, all of whom in one way or another are alienated by their fathers. It’s as if Swift is saying just as we can’t avoid a sense of guilt, so we can’t avoid doing the wrong thing. The more I think about his book, in fact, the grimmer it seems. ( )
  evening | May 3, 2016 |
When one of their number dies, drinking pals get together to scatter the ashes following his wishes. In remembering Jack, they remember and relive a lot of other things: misplaced loyalties, missed opportunities, love affairs, business deals, the vagaries of life. On the journey to Margate, Jack's chosen resting place, they argue and behave like the boys they once were, while we realize they know each other less than they think. The black humour fits this story of Londoners. This is an exceptional tale, a well-deserved winner of the Booker Prize 1996. It made for an excellent movie too, with star-filled cast including Michael Caine as Jack and Helen Mirren as Amy. ( )
  VivienneR | Mar 19, 2016 |
I really enjoy life like situations where humour is used to highlight everyday issues. This book, although about losing a loved friend, brings the gang together for the final farewell. ( )
  allysonrabbott | Jul 24, 2015 |
Several friends in a London working class neighborhood pub prepare to take the ashes of a longtime member of their group to Margate and scatter them in the sea. Through a series of complicatedly interlinked flashbacks we learn about the inter-relationships (social, family, business, extra-marital, well-known, secret) that tie them together. Told in first person, in a London demotic, slightly varied from character to character, and from each character's point of view in turn, we come to care about them and understand the complexity of what would otherwise appear to be simple lives. A touching, even moving novel. ( )
  sjnorquist | Dec 20, 2014 |
This is Swift's Booker Prize-winning novel from 1996. Some have noted similarities between it and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, but that does not detract from its quality which has been evident in Swift's writing since his earlier success with Waterland (a novel that was short-listed for the Booker). While I found it a bit slow at first, it eventually evolved into a captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request--namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. None could be better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies--insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war.

The narrative start is developed with an economy that presents (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth with a minimum of melodrama. The group is uncomfortable at first as evidenced by weak and self- conscious jocular remarks when they meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader gradually learns why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does--or so he thinks. As you might expect there are stories shared with topics like tales of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms. There is even a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling sea waves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Graham Swift is able to avoid artificiality by listening closely to these lives and presenting realistic voices that share stories of humanity with the proverbial ring of truth. ( )
  jwhenderson | May 4, 2014 |
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Graham Swiftprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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But man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave.

Sir Thomas Browne: Urn Burial
I do like to be beside the seaside.

John A. Glover-Kind
For Al
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It aint like your regular sort of day.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679766626, Paperback)

From the author of Waterland and Ever After, Last Orders is a quiet but dazzling novel about a group of men, friends since the Second World War, whose lives revolve around work, family, the racetrack, and their favorite pub. When one of them dies, the survivors drive his ashes from London to a seaside town where they will be scattered, compelling them to take stock in who they are today, who they were before, and the shifting relationships in between. Both funny and moving, this won the Booker Prize in 1996.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:16 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In England three working-class buddies, united by pub-drinking and World War II experiences, drive the ashes of the fourth to the sea. In the process emerge the lives of four families and the reason no wife came. By the author of Ever after.

(summary from another edition)

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