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Old Filth Paperback – June 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker
Top Customer Reviews
Only the title is awkward. "Filth" stands for "Failed in London, try Hong Kong," which is a misleading soubriquet for the central character, Sir Edward Feathers, a distinguished advocate and judge, and a man of the utmost probity. Born in the Far East, he was educated in England, spent most of his brilliant professional career in Hong Kong, and has now as returned to England in retirement. He is shown as a lonely old man, unable to make close personal connections, even with his wife of over fifty years. One of the book's many beauties is the way in which Feathers reaches out in old age to repair at least a few of these missed connections.
The book takes the central portion of Sir Edward's career mainly for granted, concentrating instead upon the way memories of his first quarter-century come back to haunt him as he enters his last. Born in Malaya of a mother who died in childbirth and a half-mad father who never spoke to him, he was shipped off to Britain as a young child, spending his formative years with an abusive foster-mother in Wales, and then at various boarding schools. The book describes his dysfunctional relationship with various distant relatives and close friendships with a family who are not relatives at all, his sexual education, and his wartime service guarding the Queen Mother -- all experiences that turn out to have shaped his life. The warmest contacts seem to be the most transient, and he almost entirely lacks the strong family structure that would have given him stability.Read more ›
Sir Edward Feathers, a retired and elderly judge, is from all appearances a man who has lived an uneventful life and been smiled on by fortune - or so his colleagues apparently believe. We are taken back to his earliest days in Malaysia, where we look in at a little boy happily playing in the mud, not knowing the English language, and living an uncomplicated life. He is soon wrenched away, sent to a foster family in England and we then peek in on his life at various stages.
It's heart-wrenching to see the pain inflicted on the little boy in his new circumstances, all the more painful as we have seen his innocence and delight in his former life. We witness the effect this pain - as well as the casual indifference of other adults who should have cared for him - had on his sense of self. He is shown kindness by his headmaster, "Sir", and I believe he would have been lost if not for it. We end up with a rich portrait of Edward Feathers - with each glimpse into his life another nuance is added. The story of his journey from childhood into old age is powerful and moving, and the juxtaposition of the small boy playing in the Malaysian mud, innocent of the hurt that people can inflict, and the "spectacularly clean" and proper judge soldiering on into old age will stay with you.
Gardam writes a powerful character study of this intriguing character whose fate it was "always to be left and forgotten." Now in his early eighties and living in Dorset, his wife dead, he reminisces about the past and hints at some terrible event that took place when he was eight, living in Wales with Ma Dibbs, who took care of him and two young cousins.
The narrative moves gracefully between present and past, following the life of Filth as he attends school in England, becomes part of his best friend's family, gets caught between cultures when World War II breaks out, begins his London law career, and, eventually, "tries Hongkong." Now, at the end of his life, he is in Dorset, aware that he has never really known love and has never had a home, and equally aware that he must now reach out, deal with his memories, and take control of his life if he is ever to find peace.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Old Filth, what a name and what a story. From the first sentence to the last, I was captivated by him, his history, his crazy family (no wonder), and a history of Empire, the... Read morePublished 3 days ago by Sara L. Orem
It is an interesting topic, the Raj children
It has a cool sense of humor
Wonderful book; beautifully written. In this trilogy, I prefer the 2nd volume, but highly recommend reading all three books in order.Published 27 days ago by CCS, in Maryland
The most disjointed book I have ever read, I could not even finish it.Published 1 month ago by loretta
I like the complexity and pace of these books. Characters past are revealed a bit at a time and told from their point of view. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Debbie S.
the first in a series; once you've read this you'll want to continue with the othersPublished 1 month ago by Dr. Brian Hindmarch
One of the best novels that I've read. Buy it and then buy the other two in the trilogy. Beautifully written. The bittersweet story of a marriage. Read morePublished 1 month ago by rather be reading
Jane Gardam has said that her books are about the end of the empire (British). This beautifully written book flies back and forth through the almost 90 years of Eddie-Teddy-Old... Read morePublished 2 months ago by MH
Loved this book. Jane Gardam writes beautiful prose that makes us care deeply about her characters. The narration is not linear, the novel skips frequently from childhood to old... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Lesley C.Wells