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Old Filth

by Jane Gardam

Old Filth is a portrait of the life of Sir Edward Feathers, nicknamed Filth (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) a retired judge and "Raj orphan" - one of the many young children sent ‘Home’ from the East to be fostered and educated in England.

The book commences with the judge's retirement to Dorset with his wife Betty after a highly privileged life spent in Hong Kong. He is viewed by the world as a fortunate character who has lived an uneventful life and for whom everything has gone right.

Going back and forward in time the chronology of Filth's life unfolds: The death of his mother in childbirth; his idyllic life with the local Malay people; his traumatic return to the UK to life with his Welsh foster family presided over by the vicious Ma Didds (here he meets up with his cousins Babs and Claire and another Raj orphan, a boy called Cumberledge) where events unfold that will haunt Edward his whole life; prep school with the wonderful 'Sir'; life with his best friend from school, Pat Ingolby, and his family; a spell in the army where he somehow ends up guarding Queen Mary; studying law at Oxford, where he gains a first, and then on to Hong Kong by virtue of a chance meeting with an old friend Albert Loss who he once helped and who now wants to help him.

After Betty's sudden death, Filth embarks on a journey both actual and through reminiscence, where the deep buried secrets of his so-called perfect life unfold.

This is a beautiful and subtly crafted novel. The reader is swept along in a lifetime of thoughts from the (sometimes befuddled) mind of an old man nearing the end of his life.

This was my first Jane Gardam novel but I will be reading much more of this author who is one of our most prolific. She has once been short-listed for the Booker prize and twice won the Whitbread prize (the only author to do so). Old Filth has deservedly been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2005.

Read more about Jane Gardam.

Read a review of Old Filth in the Guardian.

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