SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2005 ORANGE PRIZE
Praise for Old Filth
"Excellent and compulsively readable...Old Filth belongs in the Dickensian pantheon of memorable characters."
—The New York Times Book Review
"[Old Filth] will bring immense pleasure to readers who treasure fiction that is intelligent, witty, sophisticated and—a quality encountered all too rarely in contemporary culture—adult."
—The Washington Post
"Gardam is an exquisite storyteller, picking up threads, laying them down, returning to them and giving them new meaning...Old Filth is sad, funny, beautiful and haunting."
—The Seattle Times
"A masterpiece of storytelling."
—The Dallas Morning News
"Jane Gardam's beautiful, vivid, defiantly funny novel is a must."
Praise for Jane Gardam
"[Gardam] is a brilliant writer. Her prose sparkles with wit, compassion and humor."
—The Washington Post
"[Gardam] is the best kind of literary escape: serious, mesmerizing, and deeply satisfying."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
"It's hard...not to be charmed by a writer with Gardam's substantial gifts."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Gardam's prose is so economical that no moment she describes is either gratuitous or wasted."
—The New Yorker
"Gardam is a unique and wonderful writer."
—The Huffington Post
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.
… [Old Filth] will bring immense pleasure to readers who treasure fiction that is intelligent, witty, sophisticated and -- a quality encountered all too rarely in contemporary culture -- adult.
The Washington Post
Gardam’s novel is an anthology of such bittersweet scenes, rendered by a novelist at the very top of her form. She may have taken the name of her hero’s Hong Kong rival, Veneering, from an unattractive social climber in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, but a reading of her new novel seems convincing proof that the name Old Filth also belongs in the Dickensian pantheon of memorable characters.
The New York Times
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Gardam's impressive oeuvre runs to over 25 books for adults and children, including Whitbread Prize winners The Queen of the Tambourine and The Hollow Land, but her latest has the freshness and energy of a particularly brilliant first novel. Filth (short for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong") is a retired international lawyer who has recently been widowed. Left to contemplate his long marriage, the moral contradictions of his career, and the passionate hatred he harbors for his next-door neighbor, Filth keeps returning to the trauma of his childhood as a "Raj orphan," one of the countless colonial children sent away from their parents to be educated in a "home" in an England they had never known. The various meanings of "home" and the gap between the public persona and the private person are just two of the complex themes that Gardam treats here with the lightest of touches. Both witty and poignant, this work is more than a character study; through her protagonist, Gardam offers a view of the last days of empire as seen from post-9/11 Britain. Strongly recommended.-Leora Bersohn, Columbia Univ., New York Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The marvelously versatile Gardam (Faith Fox, 2003, etc.) dips into British imperial history for her extraordinary portrait of a Raj orphan. Filth is an acronym (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) and the affectionate nickname for Sir Edward Feathers, whose distinguished career, as an advocate and judge, began in Hong Kong in 1947. His colleagues saw an "untroubled and uneventful life." Boy, were they wrong. For Eddie, son of a servant of Empire, was a Raj orphan whose common lot was to be shipped off to British foster families. Eddie's case was extreme. His mother died after giving birth in Malaya; his whisky-fueled father rejected him; he was housed with a native girl, Ada, who adored him. Eddie's first trauma will be his removal from Ada; the four-year-old is dispatched (in steerage) to a child-hating, sadistic foster mother in Wales, Ma Didds. His time with her will be his second great trauma. The story begins when Filth is an old man, living alone in the English countryside, his beloved wife Betty recently dead, then alternates fluidly between old age and childhood and youth, which had its bright spots. Filth has repressed memories of Ma Didds's regime, which he ended dramatically with the help of her other charges, his cousins Babs and Claire. Yet the horrifying memory tolls like a distant bell, and the climax comes when Filth and Babs relive it, in the presence of a priest. The wheel has come full circle; the old man is as vulnerable as a child; his spiritual journey is complete. Gardam's richly textured novel is packed with memorable sequences: Eddie traveling to Singapore, an evacuee from WW2 Britain, sharing a cabin with a half-Chinese cardsharp; back in Britain, guarding QueenMary from the Germans; much later, in shock after Betty's death, driving wildly across England to visit ancient, half-mad cousin Babs, who has just proposed to a schoolboy. One of the finest achievements of this greatly talented British author.