Last Orders by Graham Swift

Last Orders
by Graham Swift
(Random House of Canada, Toronto: 1996 (Vintage Canada edition, 1996))
(first published in England in 1996; current edition 2002)

READ: January 2005

Graham Swift is one of my favourite contemporary British writers. Other good books of his that I have read include Waterland, The Sweet Shop Owner and Shuttlecock. I was first introduced to his books when I was at York University for my undergrad, and I worked as a student writer at excalibur.

Last Orders is the tale of four men, very old friends, who are on a "pilgrimage", as it were, to dispose of the ashes of one of their friends and wartime comrades, Jack. He wanted his ashes to be scattered at sea, so they set off for a few hours' drive across England (from the outskirts of London) to the coast. Sounds simple enough, but Swift has packed a lot of plain human-ness in there. We start out with much of the story being told by Ray, one of Jack's oldest friends, but eventually, as the role of narrator gets shared among the other men (as well as some of the absent wives), we realize that neither Ray, nor any of the rest of them, are ever telling us the whole story. It is a simple premise, yes, but poignant and gripping, and a very satisfying read.

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