Weekend, William McIlvanney
Sceptre, 272 pages
“What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?” The answer to the famous question is man, who crawls as a baby, walks upright as an adult, and uses a cane in old age. The question and answer originate in the Oedipus story; when Oedipus successfully solves the Sphinx’s riddle, the Sphinx kills itself, allowing Oedipus to carry on with the business of killing his father and marrying his mother. According to Freud, the Oedipus story clearly illustrates the subconscious desires of the infant and is separate from the Sphinx’s question, but what if the two are intertwined and their significance is deeper than has been previously understood? What if the question refers to the evolving state of man – that man began as an animal, finding satisfaction in mere existence, then evolved into a thinking, reflective being who sought meaning in life, and to cope with this existential crisis, needed a crutch to survive?
In Weekend, a group of students from Glasgow go on a study weekend to a mansion on the island of Cannamore to explore this very question. Nineteen year old Kate fears she has held herself back in life from more than just sex. Jacqui has been crossed in love and finds strength in raging against all men. Vikki has gone through a divorce and then received a frightening medical diagnosis, so she is looking to reinvent herself. Marion realizes how little she has actually been allowed to experience, and takes comfort in the role of observer. If the topics are interesting to the students, they are equally relevant to the personal lives of the speakers. Andrew Lawson, who drinks excessively to dull the burden of caring for his terminally ill wife, is set to lecture on animality and humanity in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. David Cudlipp, who relieves marital stress by sleeping with his students, plans to speak on the repression of animality in Farewell, Julie Logan. And Harry Beck, who practices self-sabotage as a way to handle the lack of follow-up to a literary success he experienced fifteen years ago, is planning to talk about the Sphinx’s riddle and the progression from animal to human to mutant with a third leg.
These lectures take place over a country weekend where the boundaries between students and speakers melt away. All the expected bed-hopping normally associated with British country weekends happens as a matter of course, but in McIlvanney’s novel, sex is one of the crutches the characters use to move them through their individual crises.
Weekend is a thought-provoking exploration of love, meaning and the human condition, an existential novel rare in its vibrancy and hope for the future.