WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 1996
Four men once close to Jack Dodds, a London butcher, meet to carry out his peculiar last wish: to have his ashes scattered into the sea at Margate. For reasons best known to herself, Jack’s widow, Amy, declines to join them . . . On the surface a simple tale of an increasingly bizarre day’s outing, this Booker-prize winning, internationally acclaimed novel is a resonant and classic exploration of the complexity and courage of ordinary lives. Intensely local but overwhelmingly universal, faithful to the fleeting rhythms and accidental eloquence of everyday speech but also to the timeless truths of life and death, it succeeds in being comic and heartstopping, affectionate and wise, and in conferring on its stumbling, disappointed characters an enduring decency, dignity and depth.
‘A surpassing testament to Swift’s vibrant and powerful gifts’ The Times
‘A triumph . . . a story about the most fundamental things of all’ Evening Standard
On a bleak spring day, four men meet in their favorite pub in a working-class London neighborhood. They are about to begin a pilgrimage to scatter the ashes of a fifth man, Jack Dodds, friend since WWII of three of them, adoptive father to the fourth. By the time they reach the seaside town where Jack's "last orders" have sent them, the tangled relationship among the men, their wives and their children has obliquely been revealed. Swift's lean, suspenseful and ultimately quite moving narrative is propelled by vernacular dialogue and elliptical internal monologues. Through the men's richly differentiated voices, the reader gradually understands the bonds of friendship, loyalty and love, and the undercurrents of greed, adulterous betrayal, parental guilt, anger and resentment that run through their intertwined lives. Each of them, it turns out, has a guilty secret, and the ironies compound as the quiet dramas of their lives are revealed. Amy, Jack's widow, does not accompany the men; she chooses instead to visit her and Jack's profoundly handicapped daughter in an institution, as she has done twice a week for 50 years. Swift plumbs the existentialist questions of identity and the meaning of existence while remaining true to the vocabulary, social circumstances and point of view of his proletarian characters. Written with impeccable honesty and paced with unflagging momentum, the novel ends with a scene of transcendent understanding.