The Fictioning Horror Sale
 
 

Recently Viewed clear list


Powell's Q&A | September 3, 2014

Emily St. John Mandel: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Emily St. John Mandel



Describe your latest book. My new novel is called Station Eleven. It's about a traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North... Continue »
  1. $17.47 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    Station Eleven

    Emily St. John Mandel 9780385353304

spacer

Last Orders

by

Last Orders Cover

ISBN13: 9780679766629
ISBN10: 0679766626
Condition: Standard
All Product Details

Only 1 left in stock at $4.95!

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. The title of the novel is a play on the "last orders" taken by a bartender in the pub [p. 6], and, of course, the "last orders" given by Jack concerning the disposal of his ashes. Why does Swift choose to make this link between the end of a night in the pub and the end of a life?

2. Last Orders has an unusual narrative structure: in each section characters speak for themselves, recounting past and present actions. There is no omniscient narrator, no stand-in for the author, no one who knows more than any one character. What effect does this narrative structure have upon your experience as a reader? What happens to your expectation of the traditional "exposition"-being filled in, at the outset of a novel, on setting, character, and what has happened before? How do you, as the reader, gather and sort through information given by each of the speakers?

3. In addition to the characters who are engaged in the novel's main action, there are three other narrators: Jack's widow Amy, Vince's wife Mandy, and Jack himself. What does the addition of these three contribute to the building up of the story? Are they necessary, and if so, why?

4. Given that the narrative point of view is shifting and necessarily subjective, how does Graham Swift give Ray a different status from the other narrators? Do you find as a result that you feel closer to, or more sympathetic with, Ray's experience than any of the others?

5. What is the relationship between what the characters do for a living and the alternative careers they wished for, but did not take up? How is "what might have been" an issue in the lives of each of the characters in the novel, including the women?

6. The carrying on of the family business is important to Jack Dodds: he has followed in the path of his father, but his adopted son, Vince, refuses to join him in "Dodds & Son, Family Butchers." Why is it so vital to Jack that Vince join him, and why is it so vital to Vince that he resist? What other causes are there for the difficulties between Jack and Vince?

7. Jack, Lenny, Ray, and Vince each has a single daughter. Jack's daughter, June, has been institutionalized from a very early age and he has never visited her; Ray's daughter lives in Australia and he hasn't heard from her in years; Lenny's daughter, Sally, is now a prostitute married to a jailbird; Vince has pimped his daughter to a rich Arab businessman. Why have these men failed so miserably in their relationships with their daughters? Do you suppose that they might have managed relationships with sons better?

8. The friendship between Jack and Ray was forged in North Africa in World War II. Lenny, too, served in the war and still thinks of himself as "Gunner Tate." Vic served in the navy, and the trip to Margate includes a stop at the Naval Monument at Chatham. How has the memory of the war shaped how these men think of themselves? Is their shared experience of war partly the reason for their friendship? Does having lived through the war create a barrier between them and their children's generation?

9. If Vince and Lenny are the most unhappy characters in the novel, why do you think they've become this way? How is their unhappiness translated into anger and violence? What is the effect of the fight between them-comic? ludicrous? a relief? Does it change anything?

10. How has Vic's profession shaped his personality? How does Vic differ from the other characters?

11. We can think of the place names at the head of certain sections as a dotted line on a map of England: they mark the progress of the friends as they make their way to Margate. The fact that they stop at Canterbury Cathedral reminds us that in his Canterbury Tales Chaucer, too, chose to have his pilgrims tell stories and talk about themselves as they made their way along the road to Canterbury. In what ways is the journey in Last Orders like a pilgrimage? What sort of knowledge or illumination results from this trip?

12. In the opening scene of the novel, Ray compares the Coach pub to a church, with the bottles ranged like organ pipes above the bar. Later, the characters find themselves in Canterbury Cathedral. What, if any, are the connections in this novel between the pub and the cathedral? What moods andor revelations does each place nurture or inspire? How does the novel make us meditate upon the relationship between the mundane and the spiritual?

13. Why does Graham Swift locate Jack's butcher shop directly across the street from Vic's funeral home, so that the two shops mirror each other? How do images of meat, bodies, and ashes create a web of meaning in the novel?

14. Jack is present, corporeally speaking, in the jar of ashes as his friends take him down to the seaside. How does Jack's presence elicit comedy in the novel? Tenderness? How does the handling of the jar tell us about the power of friendship?

15. Why does Vince, against the wishes of the others, scatter some of the ashes over the hill at Wick's Farm? Why does this place have a particular meaning for him, so that this becomes a necessary and fitting action?

16. Consider Graham Swift's handling of time in this novel. In approximately what year is the novel's "present" action taking place? How much time has passed since the affair between Ray and Amy? What are some other instances in which specific remembered events work to build up the reader's sense of time passing in the lives of these characters? By the end of the novel, would you be able to situate roughly all of its events on a time line?

17. Swift's challenging narrative structure illuminates the problem of partial knowledge: as readers, we discover only gradually, and in bits and pieces, information we need in order to understand the characters and their histories. We have no more insight than the characters themselves, and come to the same dawning realizations that they do, at the same time. At times this effect is the result of crucial information being held back. Which characters conceal important information from others, and why? How is this issue of partial knowledge--and the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies--important to the overall plan and meaning of the novel?

18. How successful are the marriages and love relationships in this novel? What are the limits to understanding between men and women? Is love a redemptive force here, or merely a painful misunderstanding, a botched effort? Do we wish to believe that Amy and Ray will take up their love affair again, now that Jack is gone and Amy has decided to stop visiting June?

19. Ray's friends depend upon his luck-or skill-in betting on horses when they need ready cash, usually because of major crises in their lives. How large a role does random fortune play at these moments? What does it mean to be "lucky" in this novel?

20. In a novel in which each character speaks without the intervention of a narrator, the issue of individualized voices becomes crucial. How do you come to distinguish the characters' voices? How successful is Swift in differentiating between voices? How important is the role of British slang in creating the illusion of reality in this novel?

21. Consider the first epigraph (from the seventeenth-century writer Sir Thomas Browne) that Swift has chosen for his novel: "But man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave..." Do you read this epigraph ironically or seriously? What does your choice indicate about your response to the overall effect of the range of detail and meaning in this novel, from the tawdry to the profound?

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Karl Heckman, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by Karl Heckman)
Attention writers:
Masterful is the word that best describes Graham Swift's Last Orders.

It's the story of four British men spending an afternoon fulfilling the last wishes of their mutual friend of many years. Told from the viewpoint of each man, the journey is far more than the simple task before them. Each visits his past in his own way as the mission unfolds and threatens to unravel.

A faithful film adaptation was made a few years ago with a marvelous ensemble cast. However, writers wanting to improve their craft must see these words. Shifting POV can be a hazard but Swift handles it beautifully. One chapter consists of only two words. Swift is brave, free, and makes the writing seem effortless.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

Product Details

ISBN:
9780679766629
Author:
Swift, Graham
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Location:
New York :
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Friendship
Subject:
Death
Subject:
England
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
Aged men
Subject:
Working class
Subject:
Death -- England -- Fiction.
Subject:
Older men
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage International
Series Volume:
BP-413E
Publication Date:
19970131
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Yes
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
8 x 5.12 x 0.64 in 0.5 lb

Other books you might like

  1. Disgrace
    Used Trade Paper $5.95
  2. The Ghost Road
    Used Trade Paper $3.50
  3. Amsterdam
    Used Mass Market $5.95
  4. Sacred Hunger (Norton Paperback Fiction)
    Used Trade Paper $4.95
  5. God of Small Things Used Hardcover $3.50
  6. Empire Falls: A Novel
    Used Trade Paper $1.95

Related Subjects


Featured Titles » Man Booker Prize Winners
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Adventure

Last Orders Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 304 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780679766629 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Last Orders works its magic calmly and delicately."
"Review" by , "Deeply moving....Swift has made us love these characters. The impression we carry away is not the futility of life, but the amazing courage of human beings."
"Synopsis" by , US
spacer
spacer
  • back to top
Follow us on...




Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.