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Last of the Old Guard Hardcover – December 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Private papers left by the dead may present difficult problems for the survivor, Auchincloss writes in his latest chronicle of the WASP wealthy, and they do for Adrian Suydam, an American gentleman of the old school, who sets about writing the biography of his deceased corporate law partner, Ernest Saunders. It's 1944, and grand old New York is in its full glory as Adrian digs into Ernest's past (and, by virtue of their close relationship, his own), touching on muffled scandals that could threaten the old order of the wellborn and highly educated. The tone is cool and reserved as Adrian examines how Ernest's passionate devotion to the firm—founded in 1883—precludes him from finding true love and how his colleague foresees the loss of the homogeneity, the esprit de corps, the intimacy that the changing conditions of modern law practice presage. The law partners' friendship constitutes a classic fraternal love story, and Auchincloss, for all his narrative stuffiness, effortlessly conjures a bygone world of privilege. (Dec.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Citing his subject matter—Old New York—as well as his plot and well-drawn characters, the San Antonio Express-News dubbed Auchincloss a "latter-day Edith Wharton with a male sensibility." Auchincloss tenderly examines the relationships between his characters—husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees—in an elegantly formal style reminiscent of that bygone era. Though some critics complained that the confessional letters and memos making up long stretches of the novel are too homogeneous and sometimes strain credulity, the Rocky Mountain News declared that the juicy details they divulge are worth the suspension of disbelief. Even though the novel contained some timely commentary on corporate greed, other critics searched for a larger message. Still, Old Guard is a "graceful period piece" (Entertainment Weekly) in the vein of Wharton and John Galsworthy.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 212 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1St Edition edition (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547152752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547152752
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,093,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Louis Auchincloss is best known for his writings of a more genteel age, usually focusing on the early part of the twentieth century.

And he sticks to that formula in "Last of the Old Guard," a bittersweet little novel about the lifelong friendship between two very dissimilar lawyers. Along the way he addresses the many troubles and trials that they face -- as husbands, fathers and lawyers -- but the whole story is seen as a wistful flashback.

With the death of his parter Ernest Saunders, Adrian Suydam looks back on their intertwined lives -- born and educated in privileged surroundings, they met and became fast friends in college. And upon graduating, each man married a very different wife and joined forces in a law firm of their own -- which soon became a legendary force in Old New York.

But Ernest's devotion to his firm left him incapable of devoting much love to anyone, except the idolized son tragically killed in World War I. With his softer heart, Adrian tries to navigate many problems -- his wife's dislike of Ernest, treacherous associates, flaky daughters, and a rapidly changing society. But his friendship with Ernest holds out against everything.

There aren't a lot of stories about fraternal love between friends -- Auchincloss acidly observes that usually such friendships are interpreted as being about sex. But he does a good job with that difficult subject, revealing gradually how the "old guard" world of Gilded Age New York has changed over time -- both in good and bad ways.

Auchincloss also has the dignified, slightly distant prose of that bygone age. It's full of refined dialogue and reflection -- even the death of a beloved child is handled with a grave dignity.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Schwartz on September 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is the last book that Auchincloss published before his death. It is a classic Auchincloss novel. If you like classic Auchincloss, then you will like Last of the Old Guard. It has all of the signature features of the best of Auchincloss: Fine prose, strong characterization, insight into the rich and high-born upper-class New Yorkers of the early 20th century. Of course, there is no violence, overt sex, indeed hardly any events at all. It is the story of the friendship and legal partnership of Adrian Suydam and Ernest Saunders. I won't attempt to summarize this novel as other reviewers have done that quite well.

I just want to make a few of points that have been unmentioned by other reviewers. 1. Last of the Old Guard is not a novel in the sense of having a plot and developing suspense or recounting connected events. It is more of an historical biography (fictional of course) or series of vignettes in the lives of Suydam and Saunders. It is a character study of the two successful lawyers. 2. Auchincloss interjects quite a bit of political commentary which seems extraordinarily contemporary. The idea is that things haven't really changed that much since 1905 or 1920. I wonder how much he is projecting contemporary political concerns and attitudes back into his characters. 3. An interesting historical note is that the Suydam family is not fictional. They were one of the leading, most wealthy, and prominent New York families (and perhaps still are for all I know). Search "Walter Lispenard Suydam" on Google. A very sad and tragic story also comes up that can be pieced together from New York Times articles from 1911 and 1912. (Briefly: In 1911 The young wife, also very aristocratic, of a scion of the Suydam family ran off with the plumber's son.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on February 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a rule, I am not interested in the writing of lawyers or writing about lawyers, but I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. It felt so 'personal' that I wondered how much of the author's life was intertwined into it. That's the mark of good fiction. The story felt so 'real' I often felt like the author was in a chair next to me, telling the tale.

Auchincloss knows the subject which he speaks, he's one of the last of the faded "WASP" elite that pretty much now only a memory in NY society. The only thing I found wanting, was the seeming lack of self reflection of some of the more self destructive tendencies of that elite, including a naive misguided altruism and misplaced trust.

I almost wanted to ask the character, is it now a better place for us? and will the 'new elite' be as kind? So far the answer is a resounding no. But to ask would be to mis-understand the book; It's a story of a character, not a society.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen T. Hopkins VINE VOICE on June 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Prolific novelist Louis Auchincloss' new novel is titled Last of the Old Guard. On these pages, protagonist Adrian Suydam reflects wistfully on his life and that of his recently deceased law partner, Ernest Saunders. Set at the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, Auchincloss presents with a formal detachment the relationships and behavior of those times. While the primary relationship is that between two life-long friends and law partners, other relationships are also critical to the novel: husbands and wives; fathers and children; and employers and employees. This brief glimpse into another time provides a striking contrast to modern times. Last of the Old Guard conveys the sense of responsibility, formality, manners and expectations of a time that has passed, but dimensions of personal character and integrity that survive and can thrive in any era. Reading Last of the Old Guard is like visiting a museum and coming away with impressions about other times and places. Readers who want to visit an old New York will find pleasure on these pages.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)
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