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Last Friends (Old Filth Trilogy 3)
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
The last novel of an unforgettable trilogy, LAST FRIENDS follows, first, OLD FILTH, the story of Sir Edward Feathers, who Failed in London, Tried Hongkong; hence his nickname. A Raj orphan, Filth grew up in Malaya, went to school in England, became a judge, and then worked for the Empire as a member of the foreign service. The second novel, THE MAN IN THE WOODEN HAT, is the story of Filth's marriage to Betty, told from her point of view. Betty, who never really loved Filth, is reputed to have had an affair with Sir Terence Veneering, Filth's life-long rival in every aspect of life. Both of these novels are filled with wit, irony, and insights into people and relationships, especially those who serve the Empire overseas, and author Jane Gardam's ability to create scenes and unforgettable, often wry dialogue is almost unparalleled.

LAST FRIENDS, the third novel, is ostensibly the story of Sir Terence Veneering, a man of mysterious origins, Filth's rival and possibly Betty's lover. The novel opens as the villagers of St. Ague in Dorset, to which all three retired years ago, are preparing to travel to London for Old Filth's funeral, Betty and Veneering having passed on some time ago. The irrepressible Old Dulcie Williams, the village elder and widow of "Pastry Willy" Williams, a judge who was also in the foreign service, becomes the "voice" of the novel. Clearly dotty, and never shy, Dulcie provides the backstories of these characters, though she "sees" events which may or may not be real, has conversations with people who are long dead, and ignores anything (like the increasingly urgent communications from the bank) that might possibly complicate her life. She is joined in St. Ague by Fred Fiscal-Smith, who has come from Scotland on his way to the funeral, planning to spend some time visiting Dulcie. A retired solicitor and long-time friend of the three main characters, Fiscal-Smith is described by Dulcie as the "meanest," most impecunious person she has ever known.

Through Dulcie and Fiscal-Smith, the reader learns about Veneering's Russian acrobat father and sixteen-year-old British mother, his early childhood in rural Herringfleet, his experiences during the Blitz, his education, his connections with Fiscal-Smith, and his long, often parallel career with that of Filth. Allowing Dulcie, an unreliable narrator at best, to provide most of the information about the characters, gives Gardam the opportunity to write some of her funniest scenes ever, filling them with hilarious patter worthy of the best dramatic comedy. A classic scene in which Dulcie and Fiscal-Smith get locked in the church in St. Ague is laugh-out-loud funny, not a description one normally associates with Gardam, who is usually so subtle and sly with her wit and irony.

At her (surprisingly) boisterous best here, Gardam still manages to create scenes of sensitivity and understanding, especially toward Fiscal-Smith, a sad and lonely old man. While some might argue that this novel is a stand-alone (and it is, in terms of its focus and sense of direction), it is the culmination of three novels and will be far more memorable to those who have read the novels which have come before it and fully understand the contexts. A lively and memorable trilogy which lovers of literary fiction will celebrate for its ironies and insights, this trilogy begs to be made into a film or TV series.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 4 May 2013
Well, Jane, if you're reading this, I can't believe you've done it! I loved Old Filth and, after the Wooden Hat follow up, I didn't realise there was anything much left to say.

Me of little faith. I borrowed Last Friends from the library, but now shall have to buy it so I can foist it on friends who haven't been lucky enough to read it so far.

You found so many frayed ends to tie up and gave us new insight into Veneering in particular. And people who played only walk on parts in the first two books were fleshed out in this one, as well as new characters being introduced which added to the whole. I cried at one point and felt desolate at the end - as that really is The End.

One has to start with Old Filth to get the most out of Last Friends. These characters are never to be forgotten, by me, at any rate.

This novel is so funny, clever, poignant, insightful, quirky, and original, with lots of surprises.

Last Friends and Old Filth go into my Top 20 novels of All Time.

Thanks Jane
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 26 June 2013
I was so looking forward to this book, having heard Jane Gardam speak about it, and having enjoyed the first two of the trilogy very much indeed. With the constant jumping about to Dulcie and Fiscal Smith I found it didn't add much to Veneering's story - not even about his wicked night with Betty. Am I perhaps the only person who found it rather contrived? The first two books provided a wonderful jigsaw, and it must be tempting to go on adding bits to the central picture, but I was really disappointed in how little substance there was in it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Last Friends is the final volume in Jane Garam's trilogy based around the story of Sir Edward Feathers (“Old Filth” – Failed in London, Try Hong Kong), a successful lawyer and later a judge who spent much of his career as a property and construction lawyer in the Far East.

As the book opens we find that Old Filth and Terry Veneering are recently passed away. Ending their lives in a quiet Dorset village, only Dulcie, the widow of an old Hong Kong judge survives to remember the great men. Dulcie, herself ancient and frail, is about to go up to London with her daughter to attend Terry’s memorial service, a difficult challenge for her and one which is going to lead her on one more final adventure of her own.

The story moves back and forth through the years as it tells the story of Terry Venerring, brought up in a down-at-heel industrial town on the cold and windy North-east coast of England. His mother had a flourishing domestic coal business which she had developed herself, going round the streets of back to back terraced houses with an old wagon hitched to a cart-horse,

Terry’s father was a mysterious Russian, arrived off a boat and claimed by Florrie as her own, married in haste, but with no regrets, as soon as she fell pregnant with young Terry.

The story is of Terry’s climb from his inauspicious start, helped up along the way by benevolent adults who took an interest in him. If you glance at the cover above you will see Terry walking along the beach with the first of these, Peter Parable, an elderly solicitor, a deeply Christian man who asked Terry to help him gather sea-coal from the beach.

We see Terry launching himself into the legal profession as a young man. It is just after the war and London is a mess of broken buildings and joblessness. With no resources of his own, once again Terry depends on luck and good hunches, soon landing a position in Hong Kong where the earlier books in the trilogy find him with the legendary Old Filth (Sir Edward Feathers) and Old Filth’s wife Betty, who slips into Terry’s heart as his life long-love despite her marital attachment, destroying his capacity for finding a life-partner anywhere else.

In between the episodes in Terry’s life we move back to the present day and read of Dulcie’s life in Dorset and her contacts with the few surviving members of the exalted circles she used to move in. This could be just a sad tale of old age, how glory descends into just a few crumbs left on the table, yet somehow Jane Gardam enables her readers to share in the small triumphs of ageing Dulcie as she takes one final journey up to Yorkshire and ultimately manages to forge a new and unexpected future for herself.

As I read Last Friends, I was aware of being in the hands of a master-writer. Jane Garam is like an artist, creating a likeness in just a few brush-strokes of phrasing. The shifts between eras do not disrupt the story but seem to flow into one another seamlessly. Some remarkable scenes could be short stories in themselves but the way they pile up, one on another, gives a rich, multi-layered drama with a times the qualities of a Shakespearian tragedy. The economy of the writing is remarkable. This is not a long book by any means but seems to cover a vast amount of ground and a huge range of characters who seem to jump off the page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
It is eight years since I read the first volume of this trilogy (Old Filth) and five since I read the second (The Man in the Wooden Hat) - see my Amazon reviews - and I am afraid my memory of them, even with these reviews, is not too good. This third volume can, like the others, be read independently, though clearly a knowledge of those two others would greatly enrich the reading of reading this one.

Sir Edward Feathers, the central figure of the first volume and his wife Betty, the central figure of the second, have both died. So had Sir Terence Veneering, with whom Betty is believed to have had an affaire and who becomes the central figure in this volume, though it takes some time to realize it: half-way through the book we realize that he has changed his name, and it is easy to miss the time-shift between two of the chapters. They are all remembered by Sir Frederick Fiscal-Smith, who knows Veneering’ surprising past - how he rose to be a barrister from the humblest of circumstances. He, too, appears under a different name in some chapters, and again it is more than half-way through the book that we can make a connection. Before we can make them, the earlier incidents in the novel seem somewhat inconsequential, but then of course things begin to fall into place, though I have to say that I didn’t find the story all that interesting, and the ending ragged. I had given five stars to the other two volumes, which were far better than this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2014
With this book Jane Gardam concludes one of the most enjoyable trilogies of our time, a heartening, funny, thought provoking and beautifully written sequence. All the faults of the other two books are here - the coincidences in particular reach the level of absurdity, and the sentimentality is laden on rather thick - but what the heck, it's worth it to spend a few more hours in the company of these wonderful characters, and I felt really sad on reaching the last page.
For me the best part was the unexpected and welcome return of the prep school head, 'Sir', and the way Gardam tied that in with [Fiscal]-Smith. I wonder if that was planned from the start? I should like to hear Gardam talk about the trilogy some time, whether it was all worked out or evolved as she wrote each of the sequels.
There are times when the book becomes 'Rumpolesque' in style but she pulls it back with passages like Veneering's Teesside upbringing, which are touching without becoming sentimental.
For anybody who has finished the trilogy and is wondering what to read as a follow-up, I recommend A long way from Verona, which is also set in the North-East and has many of the hallmarks of the trilogy, indeed certain passages form clear parallels to Last Friends.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2014
Having loved the first two Old Filth stories, I was rather sad to find this was - frankly - just padding.
I didn't think it added much to the earlier stories, except by introducing more aspects or characters, but they were all rather peripheral, and one got the impression that this whole book was made up of what had been cut from the earlier versions of the story.
However, when you love a book and are sad to lose touch with the characters when you finish it, the one redeeming feature of this volume is that it delays the inevitable ending.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The third instalment in Jane Gardam’s Old Filth trilogy is a disappointment. It feels very much like the publisher – or indeed the author herself – is cashing in on her pervious success. Old Filth was a minor masterpiece, but this add-on, although it fills in some of the back story, particularly of Edward Feathers’ rival Terry Veneering, doesn’t seem to have an emotional heart. It feels calculated, manufactured, and as a result fails to convince. Jane Gardam always writes well, but here her characterisation and plot development isn’t as sharp as in previous books, and this, added to the fact that the reader really needs to have read the previous two books in the trilogy to have any chance of understanding what’s going on, left this reader at least feeling very let-down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2013
I would recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat. Beautifully written, each character comes alive, and I love the way Jane Gardham has expanded the lives of each person throughout the three books. Each is worth reading again to pick up subtle clues missed on the first reading. The short story in Priviledge Hill, where Sir Edward Feathers appears for the first time as an old man, even explains the pink umbrella that crops up in the second book. All fascinating, and books I will keep on my shelves always, ready to read again and again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 30 April 2014
Having read the previous two books in the trilogy, this was a well written conclusion to the trilogy. It does not stand alone though, to my mind, as the explanations for new readers are rather clunky. Shame.
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