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Old Filth Paperback – June 1, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 399 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Old Filth Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

British novelist Gardam has twice won the Whitbread and was shortlisted for the Man Booker. This, her 15th novel, was shortlisted in Britain for the Orange Prize; it outlines 20th-century British history through the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a barrister whose acronymic nickname provides the title: "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong." At nearly 80, Feathers, retired in Dorset after many years as a respected Hong Kong judge, is a hollow man with few real friends and a cold, sexless marriage that has just ended with the death of his wife, Betty. For the first time, "Filth" (as even Betty called him) delves into the past that produced him: a "Raj orphan" raised by a series of surrogates while his father worked in Singapore, Filth served briefly in WWII (guarding the Queen) and had a lackluster stint as a London barrister before emigrating. The flashbacks contrast British privilege and the chaos that ensues when the empire (especially Filth's childhood Malaya), starts to crumble. As Filth undertakes chaotic visits to his Welsh foster home and other sites, Gardam's sharp, acerbic style counterpoints Feathers's dryness. Well-rounded secondary figures further highlight his emptiness and that of empire. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

This mordantly funny novel examines the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a desiccated barrister known to colleagues and friends as Old Filth (the nickname stands for "Failed in London Try Hong Kong"). After a lucrative career in Asia, Filth settles into retirement in Dorset. With anatomical precision, Gardam reveals that, contrary to appearances, Sir Edward's life is seething with incident: a "raj orphan," whose mother died when he was born and whose father took no notice of him, he was shipped from Malaysia to Wales (cheaper than England) and entrusted to a foster mother who was cruel to him. What happened in the years before he settled into school, and was casually adopted by his best friend's kindly English country family, haunts, corrodes, and quickens Filth's heart; Gardam's prose is so economical that no moment she describes is either gratuitous or wasted.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions; 1st edition (June 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781933372136
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933372136
  • ASIN: 1933372133
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (399 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 6, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A wonderful novel! However, I should say right away that my enthusiasm for the book is probably enhanced by its personal resonances; more about that in a moment.

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.
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Format: Paperback
What a wonderful book - the writing is exquisite. I loved Faith Fox and Queen of the Tambourine also, and can't wait to read more of Jane Gardam. She has such insight and empathy for her characters, and is also wickedly funny.

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.
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Format: Paperback
Sir Edward Feathers, known as "Old Filth," is, ironically, "spectacularly...ostentatiously clean." His nickname derives from the fact that as a lawyer, he "Failed In London, Tried Hongkong." A "Raj Orphan," Filth is a child of British civil servants of the Empire in Malaya. Like other Raj children, he is sent back to England, alone, at the age of five , to begin school in a country he's never seen among people he does not know. For Filth, the alienation is tripled--his mother died when he was born; his father, suffering from shellshock and alcoholism, always ignored him; and, living in the Malayan longhouse with the servants, he saw himself as Malay, more comfortable with that language and culture than "his own."

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.
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