'Sometimes, he thought, one should take a long hard look at old friends. Like old clothes in a cupboard, there comes the moment to examine for a moth. Perhaps throw them out and forget them. Yes.'
I've been a fan of Jane Gardam since my Mum first pushed The Queen of the Tambourine into my hand several years ago. Since then, I've delved into her oeuvre (though barely scratched the surface) on many occasions and fallen more in love with her writing at every encounter.
Last Friends is the final instalment in the Old Filth trilogy which documents the life of Edward Feathers (Old Filth). This is the perfect kind of trilogy in my opinion - each book can be read as a standalone novel and still be brilliant or read as a trilogy which just enhances the experience tenfold. Each instalment tells a different side of the story which, again, is a great way to structure a trilogy. The overarching story follows the tangled lives of Edward Feathers (QC), Feathers' wife Betty and Terry Veneering (Feathers' mortal enemy and also a QC). This final part wraps up the story with a focus on Veneering.
The perspective of Last Friends is considerably later than it's predecessors. As the title suggests, the frame of the story focuses on the last friends literally left alive after the death of Feathers, Betty and Veneering. Inside of this frame narrative we are introduced slowly to the making (quite literally) of Veneering via the circumstances of his birth to his renaming from Varenski (Venitski? Vanestski?) to Veneering by a school headmaster and ending up with his life as a lawyer.
''But remember - I am only a walk-on part in your life. This is merely a guest appearance. You will have to get down to your own future now.''
Gardam's writing is rich, human and full of delightfully black humour. The writing in Last Friends shifts between past and present seamlessly without ever causing confusion and her characters (oh, the characters), are so meticulously devised and presented that I actually feel like I know them.
The novel seems to say a lot about old age and growing old and loss. Having read the entire trilogy it feels like we're ticking off a list of the dead but even though there is grief, there is not a painfully palpable feeling of sadness in the novel. The characters are kept alive in memory and through the shifting perspectives. That, and the humour is a pretty welcome juxtaposition. Even with all the dying, it feels like a celebration of life and of growing old and of making it so far.
This is a trilogy I will re-read (as I know my Mum has re-read the first two) again and again. It is funny, British, poignant, and full of some amazingly real characters (I feel we'd be friends in real life should I be of a certain age). If you've not read anything by Jane Gardam, I would highly recommend starting with Old Filth and falling for her writing and her characters.
Next up on my Jane Gardam journey will be her collection of short stories (yes, she's a short story genius too), The People on Privilege Hill. This has been on my shelf for a while and features the lovely Edward Feathers in part so I'm looking forward to getting friendly with Old Filth once again.
''I don't know what you mean, Sir. Mine was run by a man called Fondle.'
'That,' said Sir, 'is always a bad start.''
Have you read anything by Jane Gardam?
Copy received for review from the publisher via NetGalley (thanks!).