Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Last friends become fast friends at last in "Jane Gardam's "Last Friends"

With tongue gently in cheek, Jane Gardam begins Last Friends, the third book of the Old Filth trilogy, in epic grand style:

“The Titans were gone. They had clashed their last. Sir Edward Feathers, affectionately known as Old Filth (Failed in London, Try Hong Kong) and Sir Terrence Veneering, the two greatest exponents of English and International Law in the engineering and construction industry and current experts upon the Ethics of Pollution, were dead…
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.”
How I have loved Gardam.
Last Friends,” begins, after the summary introduction, with a funeral and ends with  …… a surprise.
The last of the central figures of “Old Filth” and “The Man with the Wooden Hat,” – the venerable Edward Feathers, Old Filth himself is mourned. Betty Feathers and Terry Veneering have already passed. Edward Feathers’ secrets were spilled in in Filth; those of Betty in ‘Wooden Hat.”  The deceased Veneering’s will be revealed in  “Last Friends,” whose story is framed and partly told by those who outlast them all.
The always-peripheral Fiscal-Smith, “born to be a background figure,”
and Dulcie served as best man and matron of honor at the Feathers’ wedding. They reunite at Filth’s funeral and provide occasion for the rest of the tale.  After the funeral Fiscal-Smith, ever the freeloader finagles a stay at Dulcie’s. The following evening the two return to the church and get locked in and spend a frigid night wrapped in church vestments to stay warm. The funny awkwardness that ensues is reminiscent of a cold snowy day near the beginning of  “Filth” when Feathers was locked out.  He had to seek refuge at the home of his archenemy Veneering.
Relationship havoc happens when doors lock.
Gardam sandwiches Terry Veneering’s exotic story between bookend-pieces of Fiscal-Smith and Dulcie’s tale in much the same way she sandwiched Betty Feathers’ story inside the covers of Albert Ross. Fiscal-Smith is the only one who knows of Veneering’s colorful past. Florrie Benson fell for a disabled Russian circus performer and perhaps spy named Veneski or Venski. Terry is the product of their love – and love’s attachment (while Filth is the product of abandonment.)
Opponents Filth and Veneering are in other ways opposites:  Filth’s exceptionally clean, tall, buttoned-down and handsome while Veneering’s disheveled, rakish, blond and flashy.  However, their stories often parallel each other’s and intersect with the same characters making small appearances in both stories.
Each is orphaned in a different way. Each endures a childhood with trauma. Each has a benefactor. Filth had Albert Ross providing opportunities and protecting him, Veneering has Peter Parable Aspe, a solicitor who pressures Mr. Smith, the head of a private school, to take young Terry on scholarship. War intervenes in both lives in similar ways. The bombing of London that sent Edward Feathers away on a life-changing sea voyage he endures, takes Terry on one he escapes. Who wouldn’t try to escape the clutches of a prep school master and wife named Mr. and Mrs. Fondle?
Oh how perfectly Dickensian!
While references to Coleridge may have been at the heart of “Wooden Hat,” playful homage to Dickens – the author so many have compared Gardam to  -- is central to Last Friends. Sir – the same Sir that changed Filth’s life at boarding school renames Terry: “This is a very serious matter. Your name henceforth will be Veneering. Yes. Delightful. Polished. In Dickens, Veneering (look up Our Mutual Friend) is an unpleasant character and you will have to redeem him.”
What an appropriate naming. Terry is the mutual friend of both Feathers. For each, he represents something quite different. For the venerable Edward, he’s a veneer – someone not quite trustworthy, whose polish is but a thin layer. For Betty, he’s venereal, meaning of or relating to sexual pleasure, erotic desire.
            As if that weren’t enough, Veneering’s early life is shaped by those who forage for coal and at a pivotal point Veneering even makes a visit to Dickens’ home, shakes hands with his ghost and finds his inheritance and true vocation. Dulcie’s former husband Pastry Willy (much older, now deceased) has a hand in redirecting him. (Pastry Willy was also Betty’s uncle and the judge who married the Feathers).
            Having learned what we can about Veneering’s exotic origins, readers return to the Dulcie- Fiscal Smith story. We get a glimpse of the home of the perennial bachelor and with characteristic Gardam style, it warehouses objects we recognize such as a bicycle that played an important role early in the story. Like other objects – a dress, two sets of pearls, a rose chair, and a tree that looks like a hen from earlier parts of the trilogy, Gardam has endowed the bicycle with a history so it too becomes sentimental for the reader.
Aah. Such sentimentality and nostalgia. Romance, too.
How I will miss these characters, who have over the course of the three books become my dear old friends too.
While I won’t reveal the delightful ending, suffice to say, in Last Friends those who last become truly friends  --at last.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Aug. 25 Sunday Salon Wrap Up

Aug. 25 Sunday Salon Wrap Up
Back from a lovely vacation in Massachusetts and Maine. Saw friends, relatives and elderly parents.  Walked long path in Lexington. Walked the beach and swam in the ocean. Jumped those salty icy waves! Saw my women’s group friends (30 plus years and counting). Walked Back Cove in Portland.
Ate with friends: lobster, more lobster, lobster roll. Maine (from the mud crab) crabmeat roll.  Blueberry pancakes, Blueberry pie. Whoopie Pie. Donuts.
 Currently eating in Maine vacation recovery mode: salad, fruit salad, more salad, yogurt.
While in Mass., visited John Adams’  home in Quincy. Because we now live surrounded by presidents’ homes and quite close to Monticello in Virginia, I thought I would like to see Adams’ house. Interesting. Peacefields is as much Adams – a large colonial house befitting a president, but basically a solid place to live  -- as Monticello is Jefferson -- a lavish experiment in architecture and botany.  Highlight of the Adams’ house was a separate building – a library. A wonderful place of dark wood and wooden shutters, library ladders, comfortable chairs, a long work table and volumes and volumes of old books. It was built by Charles Francis Adams, not by either of the two presidents.
Saddened by: The death of Dutch. Elmore Leonard, one of my all-time favorite writers, died this week.  I saw him described in a newstory as the one who was always the coolest guy in the room. I know that was true when I sat reading his books. I remember once in the early 80s wheb asked asked who my favorite writers were,  I replied: John Fowles and Elmore Leonard. That dates me. It also reveals me: the schizoid reading patterns just continued to develop as I did; literary fiction and crime novels, elaborate and gritty, layered and plain, serious and playful, elusive and defined plots.
Reading: Listened to Reza Aslan’s  Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, the book made famous by Lauren Green’s embarrassing interview with the author on Fox news. Green repeatedly asked how a Muslim could write a book about Christ. Others called her ignorant. To me it was clear she was being fed really bad slanted questions written by aides, had not read the book and was totally unprepared. And they call this journalism? Enticed by the brouhaha that followed, my husband and I were among those who purchased the  (audio) book, among those who helped it climb best seller lists for a short time. (Take that Fox news).
The book was great, a retelling of what we can know of the historical Jesus of Nazareth and a very necessary (at least for me) context-driven narrative. Aslan makes it very clear he is not talking about the Christ of Christianity, but rather the man of history. Well-written. Well-read.  Won’t review. Generally don’t review history (I don’t know enough) or audiobooks – simply mention.  Instead, I read reviews by scholars who debate such things as whether or not it represents the “lastest scholarship”  those who are  -or should be -- in a position to judge the research and scholarship). Looked at reviews in Pittsburgh-Post Gazette and NYTimes, The Nation.)
Writing: none. Behind now 3  (fiction) reviews.
Reading: Finished Audrey Schulman’s Three Weeks in December. (More to come if I ever get to these reviews.)
Back to: My dog, my job, my reading, my blog.
Glad to be here.
Will be back.
Hi-ho. Hi-ho. Off to work I go.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sunday Salon on Monday 8.5.13


     Back from the morning river walk with Riley. Dogs of all kinds and their owners gather every Sunday morning on the riverbank near the dog park in my community. The dogs leap and fetch sticks thrown to them in the Rivanna River at a small beach where the water is just slow enough so they don’t get swept away.
     Riley, my Jack Russell terrier/Shih Tzu combo doesn’t swim so he spent most of the morning running the beach, rolling in the sand and eyeing Daisy longingly from the shore while she swam. Yes, he’s half-crazy over the love of Daisy. She, in turn, does her best to ignore him.
 Riley is now flopped on the floor in the sun. So I have the rest of the day unrolling in front of me, with a couple of reviews to complete, and a new book to read. Finished Paul Doiron’s Massacre Pond. I knew Paul when I worked as a journalist in Maine and he headed up Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Since then he has moved on to lead Down East magazine – the magazine of Maine, where he has access to a treasure trove of Maine stories and locations. Also a Maine Guide, he knows the territory. Review to follow. I look forward to each new book.
    Have just begun another book with a Maine connections, a Europa edition titled Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman that looks as if it is set alternately in Bangor, Maine, and Rwanda, and again alternately in 1899 and 2000. Already I’m distracted as the central character in the 2000 version is a ethnobotanist named Max, who has Asperger’s. I find myself busily comparing her symptoms with those of young women I knew who also had been diagnosed with the syndrome.  From my somewhat limited work with those both male and female with this diagnosis, I know one adage to be true: You’ve seen one person with Asperger’s Syndrome, you’ve seen one person with Asperger’s syndrome – that is that it manifests in very different ways. I also know that it manifests differently in girls/women than boys/men and that one of those differences is in the way eye gazing takes place.  So far, Max’s Asperger’s is more like the males I’m familiar with than the females. So I’m distracted. Max, like men with AS, doesn’t make eye contact – does that mean she has a mild form according to research? See link on research about eye gaze in girls:
Or does it just mean she’s just one person with AS? Probably the later, because I suspect this author has thoroughly researched the subject. But I, keep trying, like others, to understand what this word means—and how it’s different as I continue to encounter it in both life and art; increasingly we are meeting individuals and seeing characters on television and in books who are likely candidates for the diagnosis. See link:
Sunday unrolled a little differently than I originally thought. I was interrupted before posting and spent the rest of the day away.