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Past Imperfect Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 1, 2009
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When family friends become bitter enemies, the consequences are deadly. Learn More
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"It's like a visit to an English country estate: breezy, beautiful and charming." --New York Times Book Review
"All this would be satire if it weren't so much like a diary, and though those who know about such things generally don't tell, Fellowes, a more genial Evelyn Waugh, seems to hide a notebook in his dinner jacket." --People (4 stars)
"Fellowes has a high time skewering the foibles of the landed British gentry..." --Entertainment Weekly
"Julian Fellowes knows a thing or two about British society and those who dare to infiltrate it....delightful" --Vogue
"A guilty pleasure of a novel [that] seems authentic down to the wallpaper and the Wellingtons. Hilarious...sharp, entertaining, and unforgiving." --Anna Quindlen
"It's not only the rich who are different, it's the British upper classes too. This complicated truth, all the more palatable if delivered amusingly, has been successfully tackled by such insiders as P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, and is now resurrected by Julian Fellowes." --The Miami Herald
Top Customer Reviews
I enjoyed it so much I looked the author up here and was surprised to find relatively negative reviews. The author does sometimes come across as snobbish and frequently expresses strong opinions and tastes, but I liked that it was written from a distinctive point of view, whether or not I agreed with his various judgements. It was also pleasant to read a book so careful in its language (in the sense of grammar, punctuation, usage, and general style).
The five star review, however, is for its living up to all the good-book cliches: I couldn't put it down, I didn't want to stop reading, etc. Characters are introduced gradually; most are multifaceted enough that the reader's opinions of them change throughout the book. The writing is skillful enough that one barely notices that the narrator's name is never given, and it is similarly unobtrusive when a character is referred to simply as, for example, so-and-so's husband for a while, and then when the name is given, one learns it is actually an already-introduced character, so there are small surprises and revelations throughout the story as well as the answer to the book's main question at the end.
I finished it today and now I want to get Snobs ASAP.
However, in 1968, the world was in a period of flux - politically and socially. This was the end of one era and the beginning of another. Although many of the traditions and customs remain, the official organization of the Season no longer exists The presentation of debutantes at court was abolished by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958. And while the London Season continues - young debs still have to be married, as do eligible bachelors - the scale of events has been cut-back significantly.
Boutique clothes and micro mini-skirts from Carnaby Street were "in," as were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1968. Charles, Prince of Wales, was probably dating his Camilla - although both were single at the time. And the unnamed narrator of "Past Imperfect," fresh out of Cambridge, was enjoying himself, along with his circle of friends. Prominent amongst these friends was the handsome, debonair Damian Baxter. Although not a member of the nobility, nor rich, this young man had the wherewithal and poise to act as one of the privileged, and to be accepted by the younger set, although not by their parents.
Damian was not after inherited wealth or a noble wife, though his peers would never have noticed this. He did not covet the life of the elite - he wanted to "witness it - to experience it, but only as a traveler from another land." "He didn't want to live in the past where he had no position. He wanted to live in the future where he could be anything he wished."
Now, some forty years later, Damian is as rich as Midas, with a large, elegant home in Surrey where he lives alone. He is dying. After receiving an unsigned letter from a former lover telling him he had sired a child out of wedlock, back in the good old days, he finds himself desperate to find his natural heir. Obviously he wants to bequeath him/her his considerable fortune, £500 million, but he also has a need to know that his line will continue, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket. Damian had married in his 30s, but by that time he was sterile due to an unfortunate bout of adult mumps. During the promiscuous period of the 1968-69 Seasons, he had affairs with various young women. One of them could possibly be the mother of his child.
Damian calls upon our narrator to assist him in finding his offspring and the prospective mother. What is so remarkable about the request is that Damian and the narrator had a major falling out in 1970, and lost touch with either other's life. The narrator actually hates his terminally ill former friend. "Past Perfect's" mysteries include: Does Damien have an heir? Why does the narrator hate Damian? And why does he accept Damian's request for help in his quest?
In fulfilling the dying man's request, the narrator must return to his own past and, inevitably, compare it with his present existence. He has been forced to remember what he wanted from life at nineteen...before he knew what life was about. Now, thanks to Damien, "he must bear witness to what happened to all those silly, over made-up girls, the vain self-important young men - and to what happened to himself." "He has been rendered discontented when it is nearly too late to fix, but soon enough to have many years ahead to live with that discontent."
There is a list of five women - five former debs whom Damien had sex with back then - all of whom have children of the right age. As the narrator finds them and explores their past and present lives, more of the storyline, from the 1960s to the 21st century, are revealed. And these women, also former friends of the narrator, are more than happy to discuss their pasts with him. Their stories represent different aspects of British upper class society.
Author and Academy Award winning screenwriter, (Gosford Park), Julian Fellowes writes with wit, as he describes the lives of the upper classes as they were having to start to come to terms with the changing times. The well written narrative is full of astute observations on human nature. The novel is frequently funny, and often poignant. The characters are wonderful. Obviously, I enjoyed "Past Imperfect" immensely. Highly recommended!
Damian Baxter, a dying, friendless self-made billionaire who crashed the London debutante scene in 1968 when a poor young man engages a former enemy, now a moderately successful writer, to determine if any of his debutante conquests bore him a child who can inherit his fortune. During his quest, the writer interweaves amusing flashbacks to the declining debutante scene that followed the abolition of "Presentment" by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958 with the subsequent histories of the women on Damian's list, all the while reflecting, with genuine insight and humor, on what the English have lost and gained as a society in the intervening years. For many readers, these reflections will be the most memorable passages in the book.
I would compare Past Imperfect favorably to A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. Though much less ambitious than Powell's 12-novel cycle, and sometimes weaker in characterization, it nearly matches Powell's humor, and if the characters are less vividly drawn, they are always believable. Being an American who resides in the west, I found the botoxed and face-lifted LA infomercial host with imaginary food allergies, in particular, to be spot on. I meet her every day.
The characters are all upper-middle or upper class, so if you think that squalor and degradation are the only fit subjects for literature, don't read this book. Go read Erskine Caldwell instead. Or check out "The Celebrated Tractor Driver" and other Marxist gems.
I am somewhat perplexed by some of the negative reviews here that seek to portray Fellowes as an elitist snob. I wonder if these reviewers actually read the book. If so, they must have missed passages like this one:
"The rude, like the polite, may be found at every level of society, but there is a particular kind of rudeness, when it rests on empty snobbery, on an assumption of superiority made by people who have nothing superior about them, who have nothing about them at all, in fact, that is unique to the upper classes and very hard to swallow. Old Lady Belton was a classic example, a walking mass of bogus values, a hollow gourd, a cause for revolution...There is much that makes me nostalgic for the England of my youth, much that I think has been lost to our detriment, but sometimes one must recognize where it was wrong and why it had to change."