Last Friends

Written by Jane Gardam
Review by Helene Williams

This final volume in Gardam’s trilogy rounds out the saga of the complicated relationship between Sir Edward Feathers, his wife Betty, and his archrival and nemesis, Sir Terence Veneering. The first book, Old Filth, is Eddie’s story, with the title referring to a generation of post-imperial British professionals, who have “Failed in London, Try Hong Kong.” Eddie and Terry are both lawyers who have found their calling in the intricate world of construction contracts in a burgeoning mid-to-late 20th-century Hong Kong. Eddie’s tales of triumphs and woe are then told from Betty’s point of view in the second volume, The Man in the Wooden Hat, in which readers discover much about why Eddie and Terry hated each other: they were lifelong rivals not only in court, but for Betty’s affection.

In Last Friends, it is Terry’s turn to be unmasked. Here, we learn of Terry’s unusual origins, involving a traveling circus and a barmaid, his narrow escapes during World War II, and the nontraditional education that led to his illustrious career. Much of the reminiscing and action in this volume takes place in England, which is a bit dreary compared to the lively turbulence of Hong Kong. Minor characters from the first two books drive the narration, and at times the story is more about them than Terry, though what they learn about themselves and each other—about friendship, romance, and marriage—certainly reflects the trio of main characters. This volume is best read alongside the other two; while it can stand alone, readers will get much more out of it if viewed in the larger context.