‘Last Orders’ is the most I’ve enjoyed one of the Booker winners for a while now. It might be in part due to the context in which I read it – the start of a two week tropical holiday with not much else to distract me compared to the usual 10 minutes of reading snatched here and there at the end of a long day at work.
The novel tells the story of a group of friends from east London, proper old fashioned cockney boys, born and bred.We soon learn that one of the group, Jack has died and has left a request with his wife about where to scatter his ashes. The story follows the trip of the group to fulfil a dead mans wish and in doing so unravels the complex and interlinked ties and tangles their lives have lead and the different directions they could have gone.
Whilst en route to scatter Jacks ashes they find a suitably fancy car to carry out the deed in “The world looks pretty good when you’re perched on cream leather and looking out at it through tinted electric windows, even the Old Kent Road looks good”.
Whilst the book is told from a number of perspectives it felt as though the lead was Ray, we hear the most from him and about his family relationships – notably the impact losing his only daughter to go and move in Australia has had.
“I say, ‘You can’t stop her. She’s eighteen.’ She says, ‘And I’m not.’ And that’s when I realized that it wasn’t that she didn’t want Sue setting off for a new life across the world. It was that she was jealous.”
I liked the perspective of the undertaker in the narrative as an insight into a lesser known world described as people at their strongest and weakest.
“There must be something that makes you look where you look when you look.”
I particularly like this quote on the feeling of vulnerability of your position at the ‘top’ of a family once your own parents have died.
“And you wouldn’t think it would make any difference to your immediate safety and security, him not being there any more, when he wasn’t there anyway, as far away alive as dead. Except it takes away a sort of allowance, a sort of margin. It makes you feel you’ve moved to the front, you’re next.”
Finally, I’ve read a few of the reviews from high brow literary types in places like The Guardian and the Independent who criticise the novel for being simplistic or picking up on the debate which raged after the award was given about similarities with a Faulkner novel of a very similar ilk. However my review is made purely on my personal levels of enjoyment having not read the other novel in question!