Gilly Macmillan, The Long Weekend (2022)
Reviewed by Lee Horsley
Gilly Macmillan’s The Long Weekend is a riveting novel – complex, dark and disturbing. Close friends have planned an idyllic weekend away in a remote, beautiful Northumbrian retreat. But their long weekend, it turns out, is also a ‘lost’ weekend. The landscape itself becomes impenetrably dark and dangerous as a storm approaches: “the clouds have dipped so low it’s as if Dark Fell Barn is being squeezed between land and sky. The valley is veiled with rain. The place still feels like a fairy tale and definitely not one with a happy ending.”
Characters venture out vainly searching for a phone signal that will enable them to connect with the people who are expected to arrive the following day. Lost or non-functioning mobiles themselves become an image of desperate and fruitless efforts to ‘connect’ with the others and make sense of what’s happening.
As the characters wander in a threatening terrain, their normal selves break down under pressure and they discover that what were familiar relationships are in truth unreliable. They lose all sense of their own and other people’s assumed identities – identities that disintegrate as the weekend descends into fear and suspicion:
“She feels as if she’s stepped into an alternative version of her life, as if she has only the slightest of connections with reality. Reason deserts her. A sense of danger pulses. Emily. Ruth. Who are they, really? Anyone can be a danger to others.”
Just as the characters are confused about where they’re walking as the storm worsens, we as readers often feel unsure about whose headspace we’re occupying. Inner terrains are treacherous, and we experience our own form of disorientation. Drunkenness, deceit, mental instability and hysteria mount, challenging us to make our way through an unreliable, sometimes sinister human and natural landscape, in which everyone loses hold of familiar landmarks of place or identity.
The Long Weekend is a novel that makes us as readers watch our footing, looking carefully at our preconceptions about how we’re orienting ourselves as we navigate the tricky, often deceptive human relationships. On the surface, The Long Weekend tells us the story of a familiar outing of old friends, but underneath, as darkness descends, what we witness is an encounter with all that’s hidden in the normal social round of the characters’ lives. It’s a haunting and compelling journey.