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Group Read: Last Friends by Jane Gardam

75 Books Challenge for 2019

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Edited: Feb 1, 9:15am Top

Welcome to the Last Friends group read thread.

Jane Gardam is prolific writer:
  1. 13 childrens books
  2. 10 short story collections
  3. 9 novels
  4. 1 work of nonfiction
Surprisingly, of all the information about Jane Gardam that I looked at online, the most concise and complete is Wikipedia. For those of you who don’t like Wikipedia, you can skip to the pictures of the two English language covers.
Jane Mary Gardam OBE FRSL (born 11 July 1928) is an English writer of children's and adult fiction. She also writes reviews for The Spectator and The Telegraph, and writes for BBC radio. She lives in Kent, Wimbledon, and Yorkshire. She has won numerous literary awards, including the Whitbread Award twice. She was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.

Jane Gardam, was born in Coatham, North Yorkshire, to William and Kathleen Mary Pearson, and grew up in Cumberland and the North Riding of Yorkshire. At the age of seventeen, she won a scholarship to read English at Bedford College, London, now part of Royal Holloway, University of London (BA English, 1949). After leaving university, Gardam worked in a number of literary-related jobs, starting off as a Red Cross Travelling Librarian for hospital libraries, and later a journalist. She married David Gardam QC and they had three children, Tim, Catharine (Kitty) Nicholson, a botanical artist who died in 2011, and Tom.

Gardam's first book was a children's novel, A Long Way From Verona, a 13-year-old girl's first-person narrative, was published in 1971. It won the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association in 1991, which recognizes the best children's book published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award.

In her most recent works of fiction she has explored related themes and recounted stories from different points of view in three novels: Old Filth (2004), The Man in the Wooden Hat (2009), and Last Friends (2013). One American reviewer noted that her concern with "the intricate web of manners and class peculiar to the inhabitants of her homeland" does not explain why she remains less well known to an international audience than her English contemporaries. He recommended Old Filth for its "typical excellence and compulsive readability", written by a novelist "at the top of her form". The Spectator praised The Man in the Wooden Hat for its "rich complexities of chronology, settings and characters, all manipulated with marvelous dexterity". In 2015, a BBC survey voted Old Filth among the 100 greatest British novels.

Abacus edition (left) and Europa edition (right), there may be others.

Part of Amazon’s description:

Last Friends is the third and concluding novel in the highly praised trilogy that began with Old Filth and continued with The Man in the Wooden Hat.

The haunting first novel was the story of a decades-long marriage that stretched from the immediate post-World War II period into the opening of the twenty-first century. Sir Edward Feathers (Old Filth) was a captivating character: so clever, so triumphantly his own man, so wounded by his dreadful childhood.

The Man in the Wooden Hat was Betty's story. She and Sir Edward met and married in Hong Kong. She was sturdy and dependable, the exemplary wife of an eminent lawyer. She owned two exceptional strands of pearls given to her by two men, who desired her and despised each other with equal authority. This second, equally witty, novel weighed the difference between marriage and romance with great subtlety and understanding.

Last Friends is Terence Veneering's turn.

I felt that the rest of Amazon’s description was rather spoiler-ish – I only skimmed it and stopped as soon as there appeared to be important details.

Please be mindful of spoilers. If you zoom through it and just can’t wait to write about it, or if you want to discuss something that is considered “spoiler-ish”, like "The Butler did it" or "I can't believe that Nicholas Nickleby tweeted that horrible message!", use the following syntax:

Happy reading!

Feb 1, 9:29am Top

The butler DID do it. But how...she's a wily one, that butler.

Feb 1, 9:47am Top

Guess what, Karen?

I'm in.

Feb 1, 9:52am Top

I've added this thread to the group wiki. Have fun with it!

Feb 1, 10:24am Top

Thanks, Karen. I'm in. This one is from the butler's perspective? Can't wait! :-)

Feb 1, 10:33am Top

>2 richardderus: Har-de-har, RD!

>3 weird_O: Yay Bill!

>4 drneutron: Thanks, Jim.

>5 jnwelch: Hi Joe. Butlers and other servants always know all the dirt... *smile*

Feb 1, 1:14pm Top

I'll just stand over here in the corner.

Feb 1, 1:20pm Top

I just ordered the book from the library--should be here by the middle of next week.

Feb 1, 5:46pm Top

My library hold on The Man in the Wooden Hat just became available. Will see what I can do about catching up but oh, the pressure!

Feb 2, 6:17am Top

>7 quondame: Hi Susan. The series is not for everyone, for sure.

>8 ronincats: Yay, Roni!

>9 Familyhistorian: I found myself zooming through the first two, Meg, because I was charmed by the language and implications of things to come. I'm sure you'll catch up.

I have read the first chapter and have mentioned on two other threads that her writing is so smooth and seemingly effortless. I am going to try to savor this book.

Feb 2, 7:16am Top

I'm only on part two The Man in the Wooden Hat. Was happy to find it in the library. But it's the Dutch translation, and it definitely lacks that smooth and effortless quality! I now see that part of the attraction is her wonderful way with language. I do want to read on, but the two English copies in the library have both been lent.

Anyway, I won't be joining the group read now, but will definitely read your discussion later, so have fun everybody.

Feb 2, 7:50am Top

Thanks, Ella! It's interesting that the translation is not 'smooth and effortless'. Do you ever read a book in English and then Dutch or the other way around?

Edited: Feb 2, 8:32am Top

I'm no speed reader, but I am almost half-through. Makes me look forward to getting old. NOT.

Edited: Feb 2, 10:02am Top

Wow, Bill! I'm going to read the second chapter now, having just finished part 2 of a year-long read of A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I'm juggling way too many fiction books right now, and keeping them all up in the air is an interesting exercise for me, as I usually only keep one book of fiction going at once.

But in the meantime, here's the second paragraph of the first chapter. We knew all of this, of course, about Edward Feathers and Terence Veneering, but it’s so beautifully written, so succinct, so vivid.
How they had hated! For over half a century they had been fetching up all over the world eye-ball to eye-ball. Hector and Achilles, usually on battlefields far from home, championing or rubbishing, depending on the client, great broken bridges, mouldering reservoirs, wild crumbling new roads across mountain ranges, sewage-works, wind farms, ocean barrages and the leaking swimming pools of moguls. That they had in old age finished up by buying houses next door to each other in a village where there was absolutely nothing to do must have been the result of something the lolling gods had set up one drab day on Olympus to give the legal world a laugh.

Feb 3, 12:46am Top

I'm here! I started Last Friends this morning. What a terrific writer and storyteller.

Feb 3, 12:47am Top

>14 karenmarie: Yes. I loved that paragraph! Especially as it has been about 5 years since I read Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat, this was a beautifully written reminder of their relationship.

Feb 3, 8:52am Top

Hi Ellen! Welcome.

Such a clever way to refresh memories. Even for those who read Last Friends when it came out, it was published 4 years after The Man in the Wooden Hat and 9 years after Old Filth.

Feb 3, 2:47pm Top


Well, okay, done reading. But still unpacking. Two thumbs up for the whole set.


Feb 3, 10:22pm Top

I love this brief paragraph on page 132 of my edition:
"But it's true, she thought, nobody really knows a thing about another's past. Why should we? Different worlds we all inhabit from the womb."
It seems to capture an essence of the trilogy.

Feb 5, 12:18am Top

I finished the book this morning and gave it four stars. I do wish the threads of the stories had been a wee bit easier to follow but I love her writing which is full of poignancy, wry humor, and humanity. I think I might enjoy reading the trilogy as a whole rather than three distinct parts separated by years.

Feb 5, 6:28pm Top

I just finished the book and am sure I missed some of the subtle interplay among the characters, but it is just beautifully written. I'll be writing a review, probably tomorrow, and will post it on my thread and the link here.

Feb 5, 7:29pm Top

I can't believe how long I've waited to finish the story these so-human people lived for my pleasure! In fact, like Ellen, I'm going to re-read all three in a row a little later this year.

So happy I have the books to do so at my leisure! *smooch* for my pal, the horrible Horrible.

Feb 7, 3:40pm Top

karenmarie's review of Last Friends

Spoilers hidden from view unless you want to look at them. *smile*

Feb 10, 6:17pm Top

I'm underway with Last Friends, and once again impressed by her smooth writing style.

Feb 11, 7:55am Top

It is smooth. So glad you're reading it, Joe!

Feb 14, 9:17am Top

That was quite a book! Thanks for inspiring us to read it, Karen. How masterfully she conveyed the different perspectives in the three books. Among other things, I enjoyed finding out more about Veneering, and why he was the way he was. As I mentioned over on my thread, having Dulcie and others looking back at their lives and their relationships really brought home that we're all going to be in that position some day. Lots to think about!

Feb 14, 1:05pm Top

You're welcome, Joe, and I'm so glad you liked it AND that it gave you food for thought.

I have said it various places here on LT but will say here that weird_o inspired me to read Old Filth and thus started the whole thing.

Feb 17, 11:26am Top

I finished The Man in the Wooden Hat a few days ago and just started Old Friends so will have read the trilogy in close order once I am done.

Feb 17, 11:34am Top

Yay Meg! Glad to have you join in.

Feb 17, 11:40am Top

I'm really looking forward to a power read of all three later in the spring. I loved, oddly enough, Veneering after reading this book. He's not a sympathetic character but I really felt for him.

Feb 17, 11:50am Top

Wait, RD. Did you just read Last Friends? I thought you were going to wait 'til the power read of all three.

Gardam's love for her characters shone through, I thought, warts and all. If you look at Veneering in terms of falling in love with Betty at first sight, being manipulated into marriage, and losing his son, I found him sympathetic.

Feb 17, 12:02pm Top

I couldn't resist. I hadda. And I'll get a lot out of the power read no matter that I've now read all three before.

Re: spoiler, I agree...but the love Gardam shows for her characters is tough, unsympathetic love.

Feb 17, 2:42pm Top

One reveal that struck me was that Filth seemed to have known all that Betty and Veneering and Isobel were doing, said nothing to them, and let it all go.

Feb 19, 9:31pm Top

Finally got my copy midweek and am now through Chapter 14. Gardam's writing really does flow beautifully. The penny didn't drop until Chapter 13, but I plead that it's been several years since I read the first two books as the reason I didn't recognize that Terry was Veneering earlier. This is now my bathtub book so I will savor the last 9 chapters at one or two a day until I'm done. I'll look at the spoilers above then.

Feb 20, 8:43am Top

>33 weird_O: Hi Bill! Filth's early years informed all of his relationships and he did keep pretty much everything close to the vest.

>34 ronincats: Hi Roni! So glad you've joined us. There are so many pennies that drop as the series progresses that I really want to re-read it next year, just one after the other.

Edited: Feb 21, 9:01pm Top

I finished Last Friends and, while it was interesting to learn about Veneering's back story, I had always felt he was the most interesting character of the trio. It seemed like we didn't get into his head as much as we did with the other main characters in their own books but maybe that was the result of being distracted by the surviving characters' actions.

Feb 22, 3:50pm Top

All done. I do regret that I did not read this shortly after reading the first two as, although I remember most of the main plot lines, such as they are, I do NOT remember Isobel's part in all of this. I think Filth encountered her in his wanderings during his later days in England? Gone to look at the other spoilers now.

Feb 22, 8:36pm Top

>37 ronincats: Isobel was also in at the beginning with the Raj orphans. At least that's how I remember it.

Feb 23, 12:09am Top

I've just started reading. Hooray! Thanks for the push!

Feb 26, 11:08am Top

Finished! What a lovely book. I agree with so many of the comments, especially Ellen's in >19 EBT1002: and >20 EBT1002:.

I love her writing and wish I had read the three closer together so I perhaps would have been more aware of hints and Easter Eggs.

If I had to make up a backstory about Veneering, I'm afraid it would have been totally boring; it wouldn't have resembled the clever twists and turns in Last Friends.

Feb 26, 3:11pm Top

Hi Janet! So glad you liked it. I honestly think that it should be published as one book from now on out - won't happen, but it would sure make it easier to keep some of the themes and plot lines in mind.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2019

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