A Seventy-One-Year-Old Finishes a Book

Camus once said that fiction is the lie through which we get to the truth. This morning I finished the last of Jane Gardam’s Old Filth trilogy.

Most mornings I get up at half-past seven, make a cup of tea and read for an hour. Sundays I get a bit longer because we breakfast at ten compared with weekdays when you grab your own any old time. This morning I settled into the armchair that has a view of the garden in the dying days of summer, but still with colour, especially from the deep-red cannas and yellow chrysanthemums.

Last Friends concludes the tales of Edward, Terry, and Betty who loved Terry but was married to Edward, all born in the 1920s, all having much of their adult lives in the Hong Kong or Singapore of the last days of Empire. Others as well, many others, all lively characters. Some questions tantalisingly raised in the first two books are answered, but not to sew up those threads would not reduce the pleasure of the stories, the characters and above all the writing. Towards the end, Terry, a lifelong bachelor owing to his fruitless yearning for Betty, finds a kind of late-life love with another character. The last sentences, like delicate brush-strokes, set me crying for the happiness of the ageing couple, then increasing tears for my mother who got me to read, then more for my own lost loves, then for myself. A kind of ravelled truth I suppose.

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