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Winner of the 1996 Booker Prize
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. And who could 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. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends 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 learns in time 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. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong.
Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.
"A profound, intricately stratified novel full of life, love lost and love enduring." -- The Globe and Mail
"Swift has crafted a minor masterpiece, full and satisfying." -- Edmonton Journal
"Last Orders is that rare thing: literary art. It's a marvellously constructed, delightfully written, moving story." -- Ottawa Citizen
"The Booker triumph of Graham Swift's moving, effortlessly profound Last Orders is a vindication of the quiet, much-misunderstood path this fine writer chose to take after the brilliance of Waterland more than ten years ago."-- Kazuo Ishiguro
"Deeply moving--. Swift has made us love these characters. The impression we carry away is not the futility of life, but the amazing courage of human beings." -- The Toronto Star
"Last Orders works its magic calmly and delicately." -- Montreal Gazette
"Book for book, Swift is surely one of England's finest living novelists--. The tale he tells is as affecting as it is convincing." -- New York Review of Books
"An amazing novel--. A truly virtuoso performance--. A metaphor of the journey we all take." -- Ann Beattie
"One reads a novel such as Graham Swift's Last Orders with a small, still sense of gratitude, somehow heartened that ordinary lives have not been overlooked, small yearnings not gone unrecorded, final wishes not been dismissed." -- Washington Post Book World
"A novel of impeccable authenticity, and certainly the author's best since Waterland." -- New York Times Book Review
I'd said to Jack, 'It aint never gone nowhere,' and Jack'd said, 'What's that, Raysy? Can't hear you.' He was leaning over towards Vince.
It was coming up to last orders.
I said, 'They calls it the Coach and Horses but it aint never gone nowhere.'
He said, 'What?'
We were perched by the bar, usual spot. Me, Lenny, Jack and Vince. It was young Vince's birthday, so we were all well oiled, Vince's fortieth. And it was the Coach's hundredth, if you could go by the clock. I was staring at it--COACH AND HORSES in brass letters round the top. Slattery. 1884. First time I'd thought of it. And Vince was staring at Bernie Skinner's new barmaid, Brenda, or was it Glenda? Or rather at the skirt she was squeezed into, like she was sitting down when she was standing up.
I wasn't just staring at the clock, either.
Jack said, 'Vince, your eyes'll pop out.'
Vince said, 'So will her arse.'
Jack laughed. You could see how we were all wishing we were Vincey's age again.
I hadn't seen Jack so chummy with Vince for a long time. Maybe he was having to be, on account of it being Vincey's big day. That's if it was his big day, because Lenny says to me, same evening, when we meet up in the pisser, 'Have you ever wondered how he knows it's his birthday? Jack and Amy weren't ever a witness, were they? They never got no certificate. My Joan thinks Amy just picked March the third out the air. April the first might've been a better bet, mightn't it?'
Lenny's a stirrer.
We stood there piddling and swaying and I said, 'No, I aint ever wondered that. All these years.'
Lenny said, 'Still, I forget my own birthday these days. It's been a while since the rest of us saw forty, aint it, Ray?'
I said, 'Fair while.'
Lenny said, 'Mustn't begrudge the tosser his turn.' He zipped up and lurched back into the bar and I stood there staring at the porcelain.
I said, 'Daft name to call a pub.'
Jack said, 'What's that?'
I said, 'The Coach. The Coach. I'm trying to tell you.'
Vince said, looking at Brenda, 'It's Ray's joke.'
'When it aint ever moved.'
Jack said, 'Well, you should put that right, Raysy. You're the one for the horses. You ought to tell old Bernie there to crack his whip.'
Vince said, 'She can crack my whip any day.'
Jack said, 'I'll crack your head. If Mandy don't.'
And he only said it in the nick of time because half a minute later Mandy herself walks in, come to fetch Vincey home. She's been round at Jack's place, nattering with Amy and Joan. Vincey don't see her, looking at other things, but Jack and me do but we don't let on, and she comes up behind Vince and spreads her hands over his face and says, 'Hello, big eyes, guess who?'
She aint built on Brenda's lines any more but she's not doing so bad for nearly forty herself, and there's the clobber, red leather jacket over a black lace top, for a start. She says, 'Come to get you, birthday boy,' and Vincey pulls down one of her hands and pretends to bite it. He's wearing one of his fancy ties, blue and yellow zig-zags, knot pulled loose. He nibbles Mandy's hand and she takes her other hand from his face and pretends to claw his chest. So when they get up to go and we watch them move to the door, Lenny says, 'Young love, eh?', his tongue in the corner of his mouth.
But before they go Jack says, 'Don't I get a kiss, then?' and Mandy says, 'Course you do, Jack,' smiling, and we all watch while she puts her arms round Jack's neck, like she means it, and gives him two big wet ones, one on each cheek, and we all see Jack's hand come round, while she hangs on, to pat her arse. It's a big hand. We all see one of Mandy's heels lift out of her shoe. I reckon she took a drop of something with her round to Amy's. Then Jack says, shaking loose, 'Go on, get on out of it. And get this clown out of it too,' pointing at Vince.
Then Jack and Vince look at each other and Jack says, 'Happy birthday, son. Good to see you,' as if he can't see him any day he chooses. Vince says, 'Night Jack,' grabbing his jacket from the hook under the bar, and just for a moment it's like he's going to hold out his hand for Jack to shake. Forgive and forget. He puts his hand on Jack's shoulder instead, like he needs the help-up, but I reckon, by Jack's face, he gives a quick squeeze.
Jack says, 'You've only got an hour of it left.'
Mandy says, 'Better make the most of it.'
Lenny says, 'Promises.'
Vince says, 'Never know your luck.'
Mandy tugs at Vince's arm while he picks up his glass and drains off what's left, not hurrying. He says, 'Keep 'em hungry, that's what I say.' He runs his wrist across his mouth. 'Needs must.'
Lenny says, 'You're an old man now, Big Boy. Home before closing, and you have to be carted.'
I say, 'Coach is leaving.'
Lenny says, 'Don't mind Ray, Mandy. Aint his day. Backed the wrong gee-gee. Sleep tight, won't you, Mandy.'
That red jacket's a bad clash with Lenny's face.
Mandy says, 'Night boys.'
Jack's smiling. 'Night kids.'
And everyone can see, as they slip out, Vincey with his hand just nudging Mandy's back, that they're the only ones in this pub with the jam. Nice motor parked outside, perk of the trade. Nice little daughter waiting up for them, fourteen years old. But that's like eighteen these days.
Lenny says, 'Turtle doves, eh?' pawing an empty glass. 'Who's in the chair?' And Jack says, 'I am,' looking like it's his birthday too.
It was coming up to last orders, to when Bernie bangs on his bell, like it isn't a coach, it's a fire-engine. Even then it don't move. There was smoke and noise and yak and cackle and Brenda bending and pools of spillage along the bar top. Saturday night. And I said, 'It's a hundred this year, aint anyone noticed?'
Jack said, 'What's a hundred?'
I said, 'Pub is, Coach is. Look at the clock.'
Jack said, 'It's ten to eleven.'
'But it aint ever gone nowhere, has it?'
'The Coach, the Coach.'
And Jack said, 'Where d'you think it should be going, Raysy? Where d'you think we've all got to get to that the bleeding coach should be taking us?'
Posted May 15, 2002
It was one of those books I couldn't put down but didn't want to finish because I was enjoying it so much. It's a keeper and I'll read it again. Has been made into an excellent film that is true to the book and also highly recommended.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 5, 2000
Mr. Swift has an uncanny ability to draw the reader in to the real, inner life of his characters. Through them, we struggle with life and death, hope and regret. I was drawn into this novel as I always am by Swift's work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.