Laura (laura0218) wrote,
Laura
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Old Filth


Old Filth
Jane Gardam
290 pages

First Sentence: The Benchers' luncheon room of the Inner Temple.

Reflections:  Edward Feathers, or "Old Filth," is a Raj Orphan, the child of a British couple living in Malaya, who is sent back to England around the age of 5, ostensibly for his own good.  He is first cared for by a foster mother, then sent away to school, and informally adopted by his best friend's family, spending all of his holidays with them.  The experience leaves a scar:  "All my life, from my early childhood, I have been left, or dumped, or separated by death, from everyone I loved or who cared for me." 

The book is set in the present time, when "Old Filth" is well into his 80s and very wealthy, having had a successful law career in Hong Kong.   Recently widowed and quite a curmudgeon, he is learning to manage on his own.  He spends much of his time remembering the past, and gradually tells the story of his childhood.  I found these parts of the story quite sad.  On the effect of the "Raj orphan" experience:

"They say it suits some.  They come out fizzing and yelling, 'I didn't need parents,' and waving the red, white, and blue.  Snooty for life.  But we're all touched, one way or the other."

"Most of them learned never to like anyone, ever, their whole lives."

"If you haven't been loved as a child, you don't know how to love a child."

Back in the present, "Old Filth" sets out on a journey to visit two cousins with whom he shared his first foster home.  He has not travelled in years, and his household staff believe he is unfit to drive.  But he's stubborn, so he does it anyway.  There are some poignant moments as he encounters everyday modern conveniences which are foreign to him, and reunites with the cousins, each of whom have had very different life experiences from his own.  Later, he visits another part of the country where he spent time during World War II, and again reconnects with memories and people.  Along the way he makes peace with himself and comes to terms with his childhood experiences.

"Old Filth" is a quirky and memorable character who makes this book enjoyable. 

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Tags: nyt notable, review
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