Top critical review
5 people found this helpful
Skilful but gloomy and slow
on 21 January 2012
Last Orders has received the highest praise. The Guardian and TLS hailed it as Swift's finest book to date; it won the 1996 Booker Prize; it is included in the critic John Carey's list of the fifty most enjoyable books of the 20th century.
The novel concerns a car journey by a quartet of Londoners to carry out the last request of Jack Dodds: to have his ashes scattered into the sea from Margate pier. As the book progresses, the life stories of Jack and the four men are gradually revealed. The structure is rather complex, with seven different voices used, and alternations between the past and present.
You can see why it has attracted such praise. The prose is constructed with great care, the characters come to life and the various locations (a Bermondsey pub, Canterbury Cathedral, Margate) are vividly evoked.
But I found the funereal tone and speed of the book rather oppressive, particularly in the second half. A general sense that life is a disappointing business pervades as we move between hospital and home for the disabled. Meanwhile the quartet inches towards Margate with Jack's ashes in a plastic jar. It's all rather glum.
Swift's earlier book, Waterland, with its less gloomy theme, was for me more enjoyable.