When four men carry out another's final wishes, they are forced to take stock of who they are, who they were, and what lies in between."It ain't like your regular sort of day," Ray admits. The Coach and Horses pub in London's East End opened just five minutes ago, and Ray is already having a pint. He's soon joined by Lenny and Vic, who arrives carrying a box. Vic "twists the box round so we can see there's a white card sellotaped to one side. There's a date and a number and name: Jack Arthur Dodds."The three men, friends since World War II, have gathered to carry out Jack's last orders and deliver his ashes to the sea. A fourth comes, too, and serves as the driver: Jack's adopted son, Vince. As they move together toward the fulfillment of their mission, their errand becomes an extraordinary journey into their collective and individual pasts. Their voices-and Jack's, and that of Jack's widow Amy-combine in a choir of sorrow and resentment, passion and regret. An interwoven series of first-person narratives shifts between times and tenses, memories and revelations.A testament to a changing England, a stark portrait of its working class, and a mortality tale that hides its ambition and expertise under moving naturalism, Last Orders is a stunning achievement by one of England's greatest living writers.
Ray, Lenny, Jack, and Vic are veterans of World War II and drinking mates at the Coach and Horses, a London pub. Like many longtime friends, they've been through a lot together. Now, on the occasion of Jack Dodds' death, the three survivors, along with Vince, Jack and Amy's adopted son, set off to Margate Pier to scatter Jack's ashes into the ocean, an opportunity for reflection, remembrance, and revelation. Swift, the author of the excellent Waterland (1992), has a sharp eye for the shared experiences that form deep bonds between people: love, war, marriage, children, business, the pub, and death--the ties that bind. He also has a keen ear for the distinctive voices of his characters, allowing seven different voices to share in the telling. The diminutive Ray, also known as Lucky, a gambler, carries the bulk of the narration. Recounting how he met Jack in North Africa, suffered the loss of his daughter to a bloke in Australia, his wife to one in England, and other sadnesses, he puts it nicely when he comments that "it don't help you much, having been at the battle of El Alamein." Swift packs the intensity of an English Cassavettes, revealing the intimacy, brutality, and exclusiveness of male love. (Reviewed Feb. 15, 1996)0679412247Benjamin Segedin
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review
On a bleak spring day, four men meet in their favorite pub in a working-class London neighborhood. They are about to begin a pilgrimage to scatter the ashes of a fifth man, Jack Dodds, friend since WWII of three of them, adoptive father to the fourth. By the time they reach the seaside town where Jack's "last orders" have sent them, the tangled relationship among the men, their wives and their children has obliquely been revealed. Swift's lean, suspenseful and ultimately quite moving narrative is propelled by vernacular dialogue and elliptical internal monologues. Through the men's richly differentiated voices, the reader gradually understands the bonds of friendship, loyalty and love, and the undercurrents of greed, adulterous betrayal, parental guilt, anger and resentment that run through their intertwined lives. Each of them, it turns out, has a guilty secret, and the ironies compound as the quiet dramas of their lives are revealed. Amy, Jack's widow, does not accompany the men; she chooses instead to visit her and Jack's profoundly handicapped daughter in an institution, as she has done twice a week for 50 years. Swift plumbs the existentialist questions of identity and the meaning of existence while remaining true to the vocabulary, social circumstances and point of view of his proletarian characters. Written with impeccable honesty and paced with unflagging momentum, the novel ends with a scene of transcendent understanding. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Library Journal Review
In Swift's latest work, following Ever After (LJ 3/1/92), a group of men bound together by their experiences in World War II and their efforts to scrape by afterward join to take the ashes of friend Jack to Margate and toss them in the sea. In flashbacks, the intertwining stories of the men's lives are neatly unfolded, told staccato fashion in the intimate, slangy patois of working-class Britain. We learn that Jack and Amy's daughter was born defective, that they adopted Vince as a baby when his parents were killed by a German bomb, that Vince has twisted and resisted the family tie, and that the family struggled to better itself to no avail. This and more is told at times rather too elliptically, but the story is affecting. Big tragedies can make a grand show, but it is the little tragedies we can all relate to that break our hearts. Recommended for literary collections.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
British novelist Graham Swift was born in London on May 4, 1949. He attended Cambridge University and York University. Swift has written five novels, including Waterland. (Bowker Author Biography) Graham Swift, 1949 - Novelist Graham Swift was born in London, England on May 4, 1949. He attended Cambridge University where he received a B.A. in 1970, and an M.A. in 1975. He also attended York University from 1970-73. He taught English part time at several London Colleges between the years 1974 to1983. Swift's fiction tends to touch upon the subject of World War II as well as exploring the larger subject of history. "Waterland" established Swift's reputation and was made into a major film. He also wrote "Last Orders" and his novels have won a variety of prestigious literary awards and have been widely translated. Swift was an avid fisherman and co-edited an anthology of fishing in literature. (Bowker Author Biography)