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Last Orders by Graham Swift
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Last Orders (original 1996; edition 1997)

by Graham Swift

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Member:claire_hammers
Title:Last Orders
Authors:Graham Swift
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Collections:Completed
Rating:****
Tags:2012

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Last Orders by Graham Swift (1996)

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
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 |
At first glance this seems such a simple tale, a man's dying wish is to have his ashes thrown into the sea of Margate pier and four drinking mates undertake this task making a few stops along the way but there is much more to it than that. Firstly all the characters are working class, we have Vic an undertaker, Ray an insurance broker and horse racing gambler, Lenny a fruit and veg man, Vince a second hand car salesman and of course the deceased Jack Dodds, a Master Butcher. Each man along with the widow Amy narrates part of the story each unraveling a little of theirs' and Jack's past. We get life and death,childhood and parenthood, loyalty and deception,work,regret and lost opportunities,in fact all the ingredients that makes up everyday life.

Initially I found the constant skipping from one narrator to another and from the past to the present a little baffling but soon got the hang of it and even began to enjoy these constant switches of emphasis. Despite the gloomy subject matter there was also a certain amount of humour which lightened the mood at times. I also enjoyed the author's writing style feeling that he had a good grasp and insight into his characters, the most poignant for me was strangely the one who didn't go, the widow. Instead she has her own journey to make, to visit and tell her mentally retarded daughter June that Jack has died, a daughter whom Jack has shunned practically all her life but whom it could be argued that in his choice of final resting place he finally acknowledges in death what he could not face in life.

However, for me, the final third of the book rather lets it down overall. This switches predominantly between the hospital ward and the home where June has lived most of her life, coupled with the meandering nature of the journey to Margate meant I felt that the tale got somewhat bogged down at times. That said I still enjoyed the book as a whole and will certainly look out for some of Swift's other works but a worthy winner of the Booker Prize? I'm not so sure. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Dec 21, 2013 |
Excellent novel highlighting the relationship among men ( )
  midwestms | Jul 17, 2013 |
A beautiful and compelling tale. I wasn't always wholly convinced by Swift's vernacular, but the way in which he handles structure and pacing are exemplary. ( )
  lewissmith4 | Jun 10, 2013 |
This book follows three old codgers and a slightly younger old codger on a pilgrimage to Margate to scatter their late friend's ashes in the sea according to his wishes. I could almost hear Chas and Dave playing along in the background as I read it. It managed to fuse a colloquial narrative with an unashamedly literary style and the overall result was pretty good. Though the viewpoint shifted with each chapter, and the story jumped around in space and time, it was usually easy to work out what was happening. That became more difficult towards the end, however, where I felt as though I was lodged in that part of the character's brain that deals with abstract concepts, and would rather have been in the part that deals with specifics. A good read though, complex and surprisingly touching, and with characters who already speak like Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins et al, I'm sure the film cast itself. ( )
1 vote jayne_charles | Feb 20, 2012 |
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Epigraph
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
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:40 -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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