It would not have occurred to Gardam when she started writing Old Filth, but reading her trilogy whilst her country is busy brexiting this does add an extra layer to her novels. The wish of many Brits to return to the heigh days of the empire can be looked upon differently knowing that it came with its consequences for the likes of Edward Feathers, his wife Betty and their nemesis Terry Veneering.
Edward and Betty are Raj-orphans, young children, 4 or 5 years old, of expats who were sent ‘home’ from whatever country in the empire in order to have a decent British upbringing, in many cases ending up being exploited in loveless foster families. A loveless youth turns out to be an integral part of the empire, many expat children ending up highly traumatized. Gardam does not turn this into drama, she has it peep around corners, subtly and sharp. Very British, indeed.
The trilogy consists of many layers: growing up outside your family, not being able to maintain friendships, the animosity between two fierce competitors – one a Raj-orphan, the other loved to bits by his father and mother whilst growing up in the slums, and a short history of Great Britain from the thirties to the nineties of the 20th century.
Old Filth and The Man, the domains of Edward and Betty, are much alike. Both written in a rather indolent style with the occasional sharp comment that sets you thinking. In Last Friends, dedicated to Teddy Veneering, Gardam appears to be ending up, tying knots. Though Veneering is the main character, he has to share the lime light with a small group of people who have been around in the trilogy. I found that annoying. I felt that drawing attention from Veneering to the group of people surrounding him and Feathers made the novel rather crowded. It did not help that there were too many coincidences: people happening to meet, happening to have known each other, too much left to chance to be feasible.
I enjoyed reading Old Filth and The Man, this joy diminished whilst reading Last Friends. A pity. Gardam did not do well by Veneering nor by her trilogy by ending it less subtle, less indolent. To be quite honest, I would have preferred it if Gardam had left it at Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat. Together they would have done perfectly.