three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
39-Mar-Apr-2009
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-Last of the Old GuardAt age 91, the prolific Louis Auchincloss has written more than 60 books since The Indifferent Children, his debut novel, was published in 1947. A former president of the Academy of Arts and Letters, he was honored as a "Living Landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2000 and received the National Medal of Arts in 2005.

The Story: Two years after the death of his business partner in 1942, Adrian Suydam decides to profile the brilliant but flawed man using confidential material collected while writing a history of the successful New York City law firm, Saunders & Suydam, which they founded in 1883. From the Gilded Age to the Great Depression, Ernest Saunders made a fortune by ruthlessly defending big business and its most heinous practices, assisting his wealthy clients throughout the rise of the labor unions, antitrust legislation, and FDR’s New Deal. As Suydam reminisces about the scandals, divorces, and corruption that rocked New York’s aristocracy, he reflects on his complex friendship with Saunders and examines his own life and legacy.
Houghton Mifflin. 224 pages. $25. ISBN: 0547152752

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a fascinating study of an old-time conservative and his powerful law firm. And as unlikely as it sounds, it’s also a rollicking, historical good time." Ashley Simpson Shires

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"There’s something oddly comforting about reading this patrician novelist of manners, successor to Edith Wharton. You know, to a certain degree, what you’ll be served—rather like eating at an exclusive social club. The food is rarely exciting, but it’s never alarming, either, and it’s impeccably presented." Heller McAlpin

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Though Louis Auchincloss, a lawyer himself, breaks no new ground in Last of the Old Guard, his 66th book, his portrait of the old WASP power elite is, as ever, psychologically astute and smartly written." Jennifer Reese

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Since Auchincloss is an attorney in such a firm bearing his name, one can’t help but wonder how much of the novel is fictional and what is memoir. … Some touching moments, and the depiction of a lifelong friendship add warmth to what might have been a bloodless story." Mandy Twaddell

San Antonio Exp-News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If there is a flaw in the novel, it is the way these letters and memos all read as if they were written by the same ‘I’ narrator telling the rest of the novel. … With grace and wisdom, Auchincloss delivers another timeless, intelligent and thoughtful novel." David Hendricks

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As readers we have been trained to await the secret, the dark truth, the Gatsbyesque downfall of the high and mighty, and for much of the book we imagine that it must be creeping ever nearer. But the hard, if undramatic, truth Auchincloss is after may be that certain highly successful people are that way precisely because of their lack of inward division or depth of feeling." Jacob Molyneux

Critical Summary

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.

Cited by the Critics

Old Filth | Jane Gardam (2004): Short-listed for the British Orange Prize, this clever, caustic, and bitingly funny novel traces the life of the cantankerous Sir Edward Feathers against the backdrop of 20th-century British history.