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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
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.