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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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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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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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 July 2013
To enjoy this book I think you need to have read the two preceding books Old Filth and The Man In The Wooden Hat in that order so that you know the background to the characters that remain. The writing is a pleasure and the characters larger than life. There is a narrative thread through the series but more an exploration of characters and their inter-relationships.
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on 10 September 2017
A perfect finish to the series. The names of the characters are very cleverly chosen and fit very well. I was very pleased to find the book about privilege hill to continue the story. I shall read more of Jane Gardam.
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on 15 May 2017
Not as good as the previous two but a fascinating tale of Veneering's youth. It ties in lost ends and as usual beautifully written but the end stretched imagination.
Not to be read without having read the others. You will feel at sea.
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on 6 May 2017
Very enjoyable read. I think it is helpful to read the first two parts of this trilogy before reading the last. You really want to know what makes the characters tick and what happens to them.
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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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on 6 March 2015
I really enjoyed Old filth, the first book, a great diversion. Am writing this review because I saw no posted warnings when I purchased this third volume in the trilogy - it is just a disappointing fall. Rambling, silly, too coincidental. Rather spoiled the first two with an aftertaste I wish I hadn't tried.
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on 6 August 2017
Enjoyed reading it!
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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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