……….That “safe to go back in the water” phrase was the strap line used to promote Jaws 2 in the 70’s – it was a line that stuck in my brain at the time and has become one of those cliches that I trot out every now and then – much to my families boredom and dismay!!!!
It’s up there with “Sounds like something monstrous is going to happen!” from Sylvester The Cat, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” from Monty Python, “Think romantical thoughts! You and me, me and you, together!” from Monsters Inc, “That’ll do donkey! That”ll do!” from Shrek and a clutch from my favourite film of all time, ‘Where Eagles Dare’, including the legendary “Broadsword calling Danny Boy! Broadsword calling Danny Boy!” and my most romantic line for my partner “I tell you what Fraulien! We will have one more schnapps together and then I will escort you to your quarters!!!!”
But of all the times I’ve used the nonsense line from Jaws 2 to describe something really creepy, unwelcome or weird, never has it been more apt than for the character of ‘Ian’ in Blake Morrison’s odd, shocking, yet utterly compelling novel, “The Last Weekend”.
I just finished the book today but had to write the review straight away, even though I’ve got a backlog to write about, simply because I need to get it out of my system – Ian gave me the creeps – and I’m a bloke – God knows how this book, and Ian as a character, must feel for women who read this!!!!
The story grows smoothly, almost unnoticed, into its ultimately menacing and rather scary skin. It’s a book that sort of frightens you not because it just jumps out unexpectedly and shouts “BOO!” but because it’s a book that invades you slowly, like a dark shadow moving minutely, gently but dangerously and inexorably across the floor towards you!
The story follows a weekend get together of two couples – Ian and Em, on the surface are your archetypal lower middle class pairing of social worker and primary school teacher (I’m allowed to say that in a slightly disparaging way as both my partner and I are ex-primary teachers!) and Ollie and Daisy are your archetypal successful upper-middle class couple, much edgier, much more flighty and therefore less “solid”, and of course much wealthier!!! Ollie, Daisy and Ian are old friends from Uni – partly a case of brotherly man-love between Ian and Ollie and partly a case of unrequited love between Ian and Daisy – whereas Ian had found and fallen for Daisy first she quickly left him when she fell in love with his best mate Ollie! But the threesome survive the romantic to-ing and fro-ing as a rather odd menage-a-trois (though in Ian’s case its all friendship but no sex!)
They get together for a weekend, also accompanied by Milo, an artist guest of Daisy’s, with his kids, at a bizarre, rambling country house booked by Ollie. Over the course of the weekend the story unfolds, centred largely on a bet and the resultant competitive edginess between Ian and Ollie. There are emerging tensions between the characters, between the couples, between the families and even between the humans and the landscape and the humans and the house itself. These tensions rise to a crescendo in a fairly shocking climax.
I thought this was both an intriguing and beguiling book. It was one of those odd occasions when I really didn’t like any of the main characters, apart from Rufus the dog(!) and yet I found every character fascinating, almost vying to see which of them I’d dislike most by the end (Ian won that prize for me but I might have been biased against him from the off BECAUSE of that primary teacher connection!). It’s very cleverly structured, with just enough movement back and forward in time between their uni days and the present to peel off and lay bare, layer by layer, their relationships, insecurities, jealousies and in some ways downright madness! The prose is great, there’s a sparse feel to it in places and an economy of language that for me added to the overall seedy, menacing, atmosphere in the book.
Since I finished it, I’ve tried to think of other creepy characters in books I’ve read and considered how they compare to Ian. There was the equally odd and amoral Mike Engleby in Sebastian Faulks book of the same name, the utterly vicious and cold Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr Ripley”, the scariest taxi driver of all time Balgram, in Aravind Adiga’s magnificent “The White Tiger”, the second scariest taxi driver of all time, “Shalimar”, in Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar The Clown” and of course the master of cruelty and amoral actions, Thomas Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up The Bodies”.
But are any of them as creepy as Ian in The Last Weekend – I don’t think so!
Some of them are more violent, some even more amoral, some colder, and some more disturbed, but NONE of them are quite as – well – creepy – as Ian is! It’s a brilliant piece of writing – it gave me the same shudder that Jaws film poster did all those years ago – so much so that next time I’m asked by my daughter about things that scare me, I can add a third thing to the list:-
After reading “The Last Weekend” I’ll be avoiding sharks, psychotic Indian taxi drivers and any primary school teachers from the West Midlands called Ian!!!!!!!!!!!!!!