Jane Gardam completes her finely distilled and addictive “Old Filth” trilogy with “Last Friends,” which unearths the surprising and sordid background of Sir Terence Veneering, the third member of an end-of-Empire romantic love triangle that spans 50 years and shifts from Malaya to the UK to Hong Kong to the Dorset village of St. Ague.
Gardam, awarded the Whitbread (now the Costa) prize twice, has devoted a novel to each of her trio. “Old Filth” (2004) tells the story of Sir Edward Feathers, a.k.a. Old Filth (an acronym for Failed In London Try Hong Kong). Filth was, like Rudyard Kipling, a Raj orphan. Born on the Black River in Malaysia to an austere Scotsman, he was sent to England at age 5. He endured the horrors of foster care and the death of a beloved boarding school friend in the war. Through a series of nearly haphazard meetings, Old Filth ends up a wealthy man high in the colonial hierarchy as a judge in Hong Kong. Gardam portrays his obsessive work, and his loveless marriage to a woman who has promised never to leave him, with subtlety and flair.