This is an upbeat, feel-good novel. To those people who do not like SA Fiction because they find it too heavy going, The Last Road Trip is for you. It is filled with delightful characters, each one of whom has an unresolved issue in their past. Jack, Samuel, Elizabeth and Rosie are a little as I might imagine the Famous Five to be like in their golden years; going on adventures, all pulling together to solve problems and supporting each other along the way. It is also very funny with some great one-liners.
The four of them live on a retirement estate and socialise together frequently. After a funeral of one of the residents, Paul, they conclude that they do not want to see out the rest of their days living in this hidebound fashion. The various rules and regulations of the estate are stifling and restrictive so they decide to go on a road trip together. A letter written by Paul before he died triggered this decision. In essence, the message of the letter is also the message of the book.
“If you’re living with regrets – with things that you’ve put away in a box but that maybe keep you awake at night – I want to tell you that you still have time to put things right.”
They pile into Jack’s old Chrysler Voyager, kidnap Albert who was not allowed to leave, abduct his dog and head off to the first stop; Kruger Park. Each place they visit has significance for one of them. The aspect of the novel that I enjoyed the most were the various destinations that they visited. It is wonderful to recognise and re-visit places one knows and loves through a book. It is one of the reasons that many of us love reading SA fiction – the sense of place and knowingness.
I love nature and bird watching so enjoyed some of the entrancing descriptions that bring the natural world alive, like this description of starlings.
“All around starlings twitched and darted in their sapphire armour, glistening and glinting as the light caught their wings.”
Rosie is one of my favourite characters; a short, fat woman with loads of funny, sarcastic comments at the ready. Elizabeth eats like the proverbial bird and Rosie protests at how little she eats saying, “I’ve flossed more food out of my teeth than Elizabeth has on her plate. Her special place to visit is Hopetown and no one knows why. Her usual flippant self is nowhere to be seen when she finally reveals her childhood wounds and they all join in a ritual of her design that is very touching.
Another one of the places they visit is Victoria-West where there is an old art deco cinema. This fascinated me; what a bizarre thing to find in a small Karoo town. I wondered if the author invented this or if it really existed so I turned to Google. And, yes, it does. Jack and Elizabeth enjoy a private showing of Pretty Woman before the group head off to Sutherland, where Elizabeth will confront her demons. There is a wonderful scene in which they stay up all night to view a particular phenomenon of the night sky, where the stars look like “bright silver nail heads pinned to a black dome.”
Jack and Sam head off to Cape Town where the great mystery of Jack’s New Year’s Eve assignation finally becomes known and it is quite unexpected. Sam too is able to confront his past mistakes.After this trip, life changes for each character showing that it is never too late to find solutions to things that sometimes seem beyond repair.
The Last Road Trip is worth reading for the different experiences that the characters encounter and the trip around some interesting yet out of the way places. Jack as a character is a little too good to be true and some of the outcomes are a little sentimental and predictable.These small criticisms can be overlooked as it is a refreshing change, a lovely uplifting read; great escapism from reality which we all need sometimes.