I’ll start this book review by posing a question: how many of you have read Othello? It’s a personal favourite of mine; a tale of jealousy, duplicity and betrayal where Othello is convinced by Iago (supposedly his best friend) that his wife Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, his lieutenant. It’s a play that discusses people’s fatal flaws; in Othello’s case, jealousy and in Iago’s case, his innate evil nature.
You may be asking yourself why I’m banging on about a Shakespeare play when I’m supposed to be reviewing a Blake Morrison novel- The Last Weekend.
The Last Weekend reads as a modern reworking of Othello, told solely from Iago’s point of view. The narrator Ian embodies the role of the despicable Iago while his best friend Ollie is the classic Othello, letting his jealousy consume him with tragic consequences.
The story focuses on what at first appears to be a healthy rivalry between the two men, but later leads to something more sinister. Ollie has it all, at least in Ian’s opinion. He’s the good-looking sporty one who has a job as a successful barrister, while the more intellectual Ian works as a primary school teacher. However, it’s not something as trivial as money or physique that causes the rivalry between the pair. Oh no. Ollie has something that Ian has wanted for most of this life- Daisy. The quintessential Woman of His Dreams. He’s never been able to let their brief college romance go…or forget the fact that she chose Ollie over him. Ian has a somewhat strained relationship with his wife, Em- mostly due to the fact they can’t have children. The reader is given a suggestion that he views her as a substandard replacement for Daisy, his “constant love”.
The events which unfold over The Last Weekend begin with a phone call. A phone call from Ollie inviting Ian an Em to spend the weekend with him and Daisy at Badingley, a country cottage. This invitation reawakens the decades-old rivalry between Ollie and Ian and also Ian’s obsession with Daisy. He doesn’t see it as an obsession of course. To him, she’s the one he’ll always love. Em is portrayed in the story as being kind and loving but the reader knows she will never quite measure up to Daisy. It’s quite sad to read about her devotion to him throughout the novel as Ian dismisses it as trivial, choosing to focus his attentions on Daisy instead. The rivalry with Ollie and Ian is fuelled by a three-event triathlon where the stake is £10,000. We later learn that Ian is a compulsive gambler who thrives on risk.
Ian’s dark nature and warped perception of reality are slowly revealed throughout the book. From his childhood obsession with dead animals to his fascination with a snowy owl’s corpse, we see he is a very disturbed man indeed. Although Ollie is the more physical of the two, Ian is by far more superior intellectually. Throughout the novel, the reader is given the impression that he views himself as a few steps ahead of his friend, particularly in his quest to seduce Daisy. His perception of the situation is that he and Daisy have always loved each other and that Ollie has merely been a distraction all these years. In reality, she is very much in love with Ollie and views Ian as nothing more than a friend.
Events take a turn for the worse when Milo, a client of Daisy’s turns up. At this point, the parallels between The Last Weekend and Othello really come to the fore. Ian feels threatened by Milo’s closeness with Daisy and resolves to get rid of him by implying to Ollie that he’s getting too close to Daisy. This highly resembles Iago suggesting to Othello that there is something between Desdemona and Cassio. Ollie is very susceptible to this suggestion and grows increasingly agressive in his behaviour. As tensions heighten, Ian’s pursuit of Daisy culminates in a dark, sinister event that changes things forever.
The Last Weekend is a very well-written book with compelling characters throughout. The build-up to the heartbreaking ending is good and the ending itself is very unexpected however, I did find it a little anticlimactic. Much detail is given about Ian’s own background, along with his and Ollie’s college days, and this can feel a little clunky. I had originally expected a murder mystery when I first downloaded the book, but it is instead a psychological thriller which shows that everyone has a dark side. Reading the story from Ian’s twisted point of view is fascinating, if a little disturbing, and watching him manipulate Ollie, who is essentially a good person is heartbreaking in places.