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But it is more than that - she is a bloody good write I'm not sure why I love Jane Gardam's writing as much as I do. But it is more than that - she is a bloody good writer, creating indelible characters that stay with you in prose that is terrifically effective without ever calling attention to itself. Let me go on the record, in case you haven't figured it out by now. I could name names, but the list would go on for days.. Gardam's calm, self-assured style may have something to do with her late start as a writer - her first novel for adults was published when she was When "Old Filth" came out, in , she would have been I enjoy imagining the scene when the inevitable request must have come from her publisher to come up with a more marketable title - her photos suggest a woman who doesn't suffer fools gladly.

But in this case one has to think that there must have been a better title - "Old Filth" is a slightly offputting title which gives no indication of how terrific this book is. FILTH is an acronym for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong", which describes a particular sector of the British professional and civil service classes, with the not so subtle implication that those who chose to work in former outposts of the empire may not have done so as a first choice.

The book is the story of Eddie Feathers, a successful Hong Kong barrister and so-called "Raj orphan", born in Malaya, orphaned, and returned to England to be educated. When the story opens, Feather is already retired; Gardam flashes back and forward along the timeline throughout the novel, so skillfully that it's never annoying.

Although Eddie enjoys professional success, his emotional life is far more circumscribed and Gardam sketches its limits with subtlety, warmth and humor. Even better, she continues the story in last year's "The Man in the Wooden Hat". While "Old Filth" explores the Feathers marriage and the love triangle that prevents it from being emotionally fulfilling from Eddie's viewpoint, the sequel presents events from the point of view of Betty, his wife. The NY Times reviewer timesreview wonders how a writer of Jane Gardam's general awesomeness can remain neglected by U.

To be honest, I'm a bit puzzled myself. This is a great book. View all 6 comments. Jul 16, Margitte rated it really liked it Shelves: That's what his colleagues at the Bar called him, but not out of irony.

And Eddie Feathers, or later in his life also known as Sir Edward Feathers, was one of the professional Brits landing up in the outposts of the British Empire. In his case, his parents were already there and he actually was born in Malaya now Malaysia. His mother passed away after his birth, leaving a scared, emotionally unattached father to first hand him over to his carer, Ada, to live in her village, and then rescued by his aunt May and sent to England to become a proper Englishman.

He became one of the Raj orphans in the British educational and foster care system. The book starts out with judge Feathers retired and alone. He and his wife retired to Dorset in England after his long career in the East as barrister and judge. Being a modest man, they said, he had called himself a parvenu, a fraud, a carefree spirit. He was wealthy and successful in his career, but lack emotional commitment to anybody and anything.

On the surface he acted like an old curmudgeon, with very little known about his true feelings. But Betty, his late wife, understood him better than anyone, even though she never asked more of him than he was willing to give. Children was not asked. He had married a Scotswoman but she had been born in Peking. She was dumpy and tweedy with broad Lanarkshire shoulders and square hands, but she spoke Mandarin perfectly and was much more at home with Chinese ways and idiom than she ever felt on her very rare visits to Scotland.

Her passion for jewellery was Chinese and her strong Scottish fingers rattled the trays of jade in the street markets of Kowloon, stirring the stones like pebbles on a beach. His childhood memories held an incident he could never discuss with anyone. He had to confront his memories of his foster parents, Ma and Didds, and for that he needed to complete circles with family and friends who left his life a long time ago. Only he knew why he did not see an irony in his nickname. He had to confess to a priest, although he was of the opinion that he did not need help to come to an end.

Bittersweet scenes, combined with humorous moments, made this an excellent read. The author presents a character study of a man who never felt he belonged, who always felt that he was left behind. Edwards, this book introduces a seemingly grumpy old loner to the world, who had a totally different story to tell when he finally decided to do so. This book forms part of a series trilogy? View all 10 comments. Reading this book at first I thought it was superlative, further on I simply thought it merely excellent, but by the end I suppose I felt it was just very good.

Although I do wonder mildly quite what the Orange prize winner in was like if this was only one of the also rans. Old Filth is an end of life story. The title is the nickname and old joke of the central character - Failed in London, try Hong Kong - a former judge, barrister, and abused child. The novel's chapters alternate between the Reading this book at first I thought it was superlative, further on I simply thought it merely excellent, but by the end I suppose I felt it was just very good. The novel's chapters alternate between the present - the old man, funerals, visiting equally elderly relatives, ill health and worse acquaintances and his youth - birth in Malaya, farmed out to Wales, schooling, war time activities, post war qualification as a barrister.

I suppose my disenchantment had two completely unfair causes, firstly I got used to Gardam's technique, secondly there was eventually a fullish revelation of the Welsh childhood. Up until that point the Welsh childhood was elusive, coy, seductive, mysterious, like algebra one knew only through its absence, and the sense of how much an impact that this mysterious something had had on the lives of the characters.

When the revelation came, I had that old 'is that it? OK, I was missing the point, which was that there were a number of people involved and they all reacted differently to their experiences but the significance was the impact those experiences had on the rest of their lives - and that is something that Gardam makes us aware of. I can only plead before the court that reading is a subjective experience.

Something else here was the brief aside about how child abuse was, to a greater extent than today, when at least it is something that is to some degree talked about as a problem, institutionalised in the Empire structures. One of the characters talks about the children's books she had as a child - full of pictures of children beating each other - the prefectorial system as it was called in emulation of old Sparta no doubt.

This is a British Empire novel view spoiler [but perhaps not just an Empire story, similar ones get told all the time hide spoiler ] , in the sense of impacts upon lives, families, generations, the hauteur and the moments of realisation "Blacks - here he was disturbed by a cluster of different coloured people surrounding his bed. These are not the black people of the Empire, he thought, and then realised that that was exactly what most of them were.

We might wonder in what way Malaya is his country - because Malay was the only language he spoke as a young child? Because he feels a degree of identification with it that despite for living a good chunk of his life in Britain and Hong Kong that he can't feel for either after his Welsh experience, or because he feels he possesses it in the old Empire way - or some mixture.

Our feelings aren't so straightforward. More to the point this is also a witty novel, I'm pleased to report that I disturbed my fellow travellers by immodesty laughing while enjoying this book - well that'll learn them to abandon book reading in favour of playing with their phones. I was not loved after the age of four and a half. Think of being a parent like that.

What child would want a parent like you? And I love them.

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We have - difficulties, but it's a normal family life. It is so thin. And what about the asides made by characters - 'sounds like a channel four play' as one person says of a conversation with another - is this meta-textual comment, modesty, or avoiding criticism about her dialogue writing skills? Is the revelation of the need for love at the end of the book profound or trite? While when we get the revelation that idea is just laid out almost as baldly as I stated it, but then again the groundwork had been done through the novel - we had seen the consequences that the want of love at an early age had - perhaps even across generations.

Read and judge for yourself, particularly if you are interested in empires because this gives a worms eye view of the Imperial endeavour what it is like to be brought up and live within the physical necessities and mental space of an empire. Throw the first stone if you think you're good enough, I'll pause and hold it for a while yet. Reading at first I thought I'd pass the book on to my Dad but gradually decided against it view spoiler [ always a bad sign when you think of the books that you can't give to a person hide spoiler ].

View all 9 comments. Dec 07, Chrissie rated it really liked it Shelves: Well, it is informative - it depicts the life of a Raj orphan, of which there were many. Through books such as this history becomes real, not just a subject of dates and numbers. I like learning as I read. Furthermore FILTH, the main character of the book, does not have an ordinary life, but as the author emphasizes everyone mistakenly thought he did. How often do we think that that person doesn't have our problems? Think if we only knew more about all these ordinary Marvelous.

Think if we only knew more about all these ordinary people! How often do we truly know other people? This is a man who truly believes in justice, whatever that is! This is a man who did his best to live a worthy life regardless of the difficulties life threw at him. Some authors love misery and almost regale in it, but Gardam although depicting very difficult circumstances, shows how humans can struggle through. Each character found their own way to survive. There is never only one way to achieve it. The diversity of people and how we each deal with life is amazing.

View all 7 comments. Feb 02, Jeff rated it it was ok. Detailing the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a distinguished advocate and judge, Jane Gardam presents a detailed character study of a man who is, quite literally, a foreigner in his own life. I respect Gardam's economic prose as well as her Dickensian cast of characters. The problem is that I simply did not "connect" to the novel. I admired it, but I simply didn't enjoy my time with it. Ol "Old Filth" is one of those critically approbated books that I feel I "should" like more than I actually did.

Old Filth is a fascinating hybrid of heart-rending pathos and humanistic comedy, a novel that will and has appealed to a great many people. For me, though, it was a respectable, but unaffecting piece of writing. Aug 28, Elizabeth rated it it was amazing. One of the most rewarding things about reading is discovering a character, a piece of history, a perhaps arcane bit of information that somehow finds its way into your life, even if it just leads you to another great book.

Old Filth was the first time I had ever heard the term "Raj Orphans," referring to the children of British citizens posted in Asia during Britain's rule who were sent back to England or Wales, or Scotland, etc. Fascinating piece of history that makes me want to read more about this period.

Pearls beyond price

This novel is hugely entertaining, as well, with a nice little mystery at its core as an added bonus. Oct 27, Lisa rated it really liked it. Old Filth has been stalking me. Eddie Feathers keeps popping into my head. I'm been thinking about his childhood, poor Eddie. I think this novel is stronger than I initially thought. I'm changing to a solid 4 stars. But no superlatives for Old Filth.

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Jul 19, Margaret rated it really liked it. I first heard about this book on one of those recommended reading lists one comes across at the beginning of the summer. Whoever it was, the book sounded interesting, so I added it to my list of books to read. We are introduced to our eponymous hero with the tiniest bit of a dramatic scene, which takes place in the lunchroom of the courts where we hear several people talk about Old Filth, a retired judge whom they have just seen. The remarks are largely positive, leading readers to like the character even before we meet him.

And he was an attorney in Hong Kong for many years before he returned to England to be a judge. His mother died when he was three days old, and his father showed little or no interest in him. At three days old he was sent to live in a Malaysian village with his wet nurse and stayed there until he was four and a half, living as a native Malaysian. The book begins with Sir Edward in old age, a widower living in retirement in Dorset.

And we learn his whole life story in flashbacks, in jumps and starts, filling us in on his history, telling us parts and keeping some parts for later. The way the story is told actually made me more and more interested as I read about Sir Edward. He is a supremely interesting and complicated character even though he lacks self-knowledge and seems unaware of so much going on around him. His relationship with his wife Betty seems friendly, even though Gardam lets us know directly that Betty has found love elsewhere. There are clues Sir Edward should have picked up on about Betty, but he does not.

His ability to protect himself from what he does not want to know seems almost omnipotent. He remains cheerful much of the time. It is as if his Raj Orphan life, which he takes so for granted, has made him unable to face himself or any one else. Yet, instead of seeing him as a pathetic character, I became both sympathetic with him and more and more interested in his story. In fact, I am so taken with this character and Jane Gardam as his storyteller, that I will soon be looking for the next two books in this trilogy: I loved this book.

I picked it up thinking the title looked like fun and found myself instead in a book about emotional constriction and concealments in the lives of retired judge Sir Edward Feathers Old Filth himself , his wife Betty and the third main character, Veneering. While the story has tragic elements that other writers might turn into sentimental slush, Gardam maintains a superb balance between tragedy and comedy, making this book about displaced lives very easy to read, profoundly mov I loved this book.

While the story has tragic elements that other writers might turn into sentimental slush, Gardam maintains a superb balance between tragedy and comedy, making this book about displaced lives very easy to read, profoundly moving and funny all at the same time. She has a great gift for dry humour, which is sometimes so gentle that it can almost be missed, and sometimes so sharp you gasp. This book, published in , was reviewed as Gardam's 'masterpiece' in the Guardian: Later reviews for the second and third volumes in what has turned out to be a trilogy have referred to it as Gardam's masterpiece as a whole.

View all 3 comments. Sep 10, Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it. For those of us who reveled in The Raj Quartet mini-series back in the 's, this is a gift. It tells the tale of a barrister who returns to England to die after having spent his adulthood in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the British Empire. In a series of flashbacks the plot is not linear , we learn about his troubled childhood, first as a motherless child in Malaysia and then as a Raj orphan.

Edward Feathers, nicknamed Filth failed in London, try Hong Kong is a legend in his profession For those of us who reveled in The Raj Quartet mini-series back in the 's, this is a gift. Edward Feathers, nicknamed Filth failed in London, try Hong Kong is a legend in his professional life but he can't seem to find satisfaction or intimacy in his private life.

As he confronts a lonely old age he begins to ruminate on the past. His quest to understand himself assumes global implications as he embarks upon a series of journeys, both into his past and toward an uncertain future. As a character, Filth seems to encompass all the contradictions of the British Empire. His story is filled with evocative narrative sweep and personal triumphs and tragedies. It is immensely satisfying.


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If you liked this review please read on: They discussed her debut novel ' A Long Way from Verona '. Anyway, back to ' Old Filth ' Jane Gardam is an unshowy, self assure ' Old Filth ' is a superb novel I only recently heard about Jane Gardam via the reliably wonderful Backlisted Podcast. Jane Gardam is an unshowy, self assured writer, and a consummate storyteller. Her diverse characters are all understated and credible, and yet wholly memorable too. Don't be put off by the title.

Apparently, former outposts of the British Empire were the stamping ground for those who could not cut it back in the mother country. Hoping backwards and forwards in time, and slowly revealing more about the primary characters, until we reach the denouement, which explains much about the characters and how they behave. The less you know about the plot the better. However, please be assured that ' Old Filth ' is a real treat, and I cannot wait to read more of Jane Gardam 's work. View all 4 comments.

Oct 27, Mike rated it it was ok. As soon as I finished this book, I went back to Amazon to try to figure out why I read it. Yep, 33 5 star reviews and 3 4's and nothing else. When I was half way through it, a new Carl Hiaasen book landed on my desk, and I was sorely tempted to jump ship you know, life is too short But then I thought about all those 5 star reviews, and the glowing quotes on the back of the book, and I thought, well maybe it gets better, I'll just race through the rest. Sadly, it didn't get any better, alth As soon as I finished this book, I went back to Amazon to try to figure out why I read it.

Sadly, it didn't get any better, although at least there was a little surprise revelation.


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The sense I got from the book, corroborated by the reviews, is that you're most likely to like this book if something in it resonates with you. That probably means you're British, or know what it's like to be British, you love British war history, you know something about the "Raj orphans", you are very old and rue your life, you are unhinged by your wife dying although it can't be said you loved her, you never really knew your father who probably didn't want to know you, you've spent your entire life regretting something, you find your life pointless, your sex life has consisted only of a couple of brief, meaningless incidents, you are wealthy and that's all anybody can remember about you, you cannot really connect with people on any level, or you've only met one interesting person in your entire life.

Maybe two stars was too generous. Oct 02, martha Boyle rated it it was amazing. This is a very British book--and it is one of the best novels I have read in the past 10 years. I will put it up there with Atonement--but can't really compare the two as Old Filth has much more wit and humor along with the pathos.

Review: Old Filth by Jane Gardam | Books | The Guardian

In other words, it made me laugh and cry. It's is such a celebration of good writing--and the story is compelling enough that after a very brief slow start, I was carried along with the story and found it hard to put down for two days. Old Filth is an acronym for Faile This is a very British book--and it is one of the best novels I have read in the past 10 years. Old Filth is an acronym for Failed in London, try Hong Kong--and is the affectionate nickname for an elderly, famous barrister who is looking back on his life real name, Edward Feathers.

Feathers was a Raj orphan those children who were sent back to England at age 4 or 5 to be raised by others while their parents where working in India or the far east. He is emotionally closed and you don't find out why until the last part of the book--to the outsider his life looked successful yet uneventful--but to us, the readers, we see what his life really was and hear his innermost thoughts-- This is a wonderful book Sep 14, Julia rated it really liked it Recommends it for: I really enjoyed this book - it is a British book, so there is quite a bit of uncommon to Americans vocabulary, but don't let it put you off, it is a bit like seeing a British film, once you just sit back and relax about it and don't worry about what each word means, you will thoroughly enjoy it.

The story is wonderful and the manner in which it is written, between the past and the present, is well done. Don't let the title put you off, either. You will quickly learn that Filth stands for Fail I really enjoyed this book - it is a British book, so there is quite a bit of uncommon to Americans vocabulary, but don't let it put you off, it is a bit like seeing a British film, once you just sit back and relax about it and don't worry about what each word means, you will thoroughly enjoy it.

It is a wonderful tale with great characters and plot twists you will be surprised with and enjoy. I'm reading it through a second time! It's incredible how many little secrets are hidden that I did NOT notice the first time. Well, of course, the first time I did not know to what those little nuggets were referring and now I do. It is almost better the second time around - or at least I'm appreciating the depth of it more. This is one of those books that I didn't enjoy reading that much, BUT I did and do really appreciate it in the overall and in retrospect.

I think the author was really tale I'm reading it through a second time! I think the author was really talented and that she was very creative in her structuring of the novel. The book has a lot to it. It unpeels like an onion, but from two different directions. The name is interesting, too, because it definitely has a double meaning.. The other thing that forms the main character, in addition to his 'dirty secret," is the fact that he's a Raj orphan.

That whole idea is one I really knew nothing about. Yet another horror of British colonialism. Along with the seriousness of the events in the book, there is an offsetting wit and humor, too. Jun 19, Suzanne rated it really liked it. I liked old Filth because it tells a story I never heard before.