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Old Filth [Paperback]

Jane Gardam
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Oct 2005

FILTH, in his heyday, was an international lawyer with a practice in the Far East. Now, only the oldest QCs and Silks can remember that his nickname stood for Failed In London Try Hong Kong.

Long ago, Old Filth was a Raj orphan - one of the many young children sent 'Home' from the East to be fostered and educated in England. Jane Gardam's new novel tells his story, from his birth in what was then Malaya to the extremities of his old age.

Brilliantly constructed - going backwards and forwards in time, yet constantly working towards the secret at its core - OLD FILTH is funny and heart-breaking, witty and peopled with characters who astonish, dismay and delight the reader. Jane Gardam is as sensitive to the 'jungle' within children as she is to the eccentricities of the old.

A touch of magic combines with compassion, humour and delicacy to make OLD FILTH a genuine masterpiece.

Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (27 Oct 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034911840X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349118406
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 88,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane Gardam has been awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for a lifetime's contribution to the enjoyment of literature; has twice won a Whitbread Award and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Product Description


A well-executed plot, fascinating characters, humorous moments, varied settings, a study of the ageing process; this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read and offers plenty for discussion. (NEW BOOKS MAGAZINE)

A novel of great perception and quietly killing prose. (INDEPENDENT)

Gardam invents an apparently composed character, and then disassembles him into pieces which- on closer inspection-look jagged and in poor repair: unhappy memories, cooled emotions, a broken heart. (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

Gardam, the supreme novelist of young girls, also does old age brilliantly and proves that she can penetrate the male psyche too. (GUARDIAN WEEKLY)

Book Description

A genuine masterpiece - funny, brilliant, wise: - 'runner-up' (the GUARDIAN) for the Orange Prize.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
83 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, subtle and very funny 30 Oct 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A gentle yet gripping story (I won't indulge in spoilers see reviewer below if you want your pleasure ruined) that describes the life of a distinguished judge taking the unpleasant consequences of his childhood and carefully unwrapping them to show how they have echoed and shaped his adult life. The book is at different times very funny but also very poignant and tragic. I think the great strength of Gardam's writing lies in her effortless understatement. Too many writers now either have nothing to say or else tell their stories with great big hairy signposts you can't fail to miss.

Engaging and intelligent without being obscure and all done in less than 250 pages - amazing!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nurture conquered? 15 Aug 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a great book - it is technically a novel, but it could almost be an illustrated academic thesis about the ability of the human spirit to rise above early childhood adversity .......or does he?

The true stories of the Orphans of the Raj was not previously known to me, however Old Filth- when we first meet him - is a widower in retirement in England after a glittering career in the Far East. Having served the interests of 'justice' for fewer finacial rewards in his later years in Hong Kong than his previosu practice accrued, he feels content with the 'outomes' of his life. His colleagues and juniors are in awe of him and talk about him as someone to whom very little happnes....yet as his memory brings back long-buried experiences as he works through his grieving process for his wife - who was equally competent if emotionally distant from him (and needy) - the inner sadness of an isolated soul in life-long torment and contrition is revealed.

A must read if you wish to be a well-rounded human being.
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54 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real treat 19 Mar 2006
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Don’t be put off by the horrid title or by the fact that the main character, whose real name is Sir Edward Feathers, is frequently referred to as Filth, even by his loving wife: the nickname of this distinguished lawyer who had made his career in the Far East, stood for Failed In London Try Hong Kong. Otherwise no name could be less appropriate for this old man who is described as “spectacularly clean” and whose kaleidoscopic life story, in England and the Far East, this is. It would be a spoiler if I described it or the gaps in the story which the author leaves to our imagination to fill in.
The book and the characters in it are quirky, funny, sad, and touching; the touches of period flavour (ca. 1923 to 2002 - though there seems to be an error on the very last page) are spot-on; and Jane Gardam’ style is idiosyncratic, often staccato, but a pleasure to read. Her similes or descriptions are never hackneyed, never forced, but always fresh and arresting. I found the novel a real treat.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and moving 18 Sep 2005
By A Customer
What marvelous characters! This book opens a whole world--the world of the Raj Orphans, those sent back to Britain from the farflung Empire between the two wars--and makes it come alive through the complex character of Edward Feathers, Old Filth. As he moves in and out of time, his experiences bring to the reader not only magically historical moments but characters so beautifully drawn their equals are rarely seen in modern fiction. From his best friend at school to the "Chinese dwarf" with whom he sails back East as a teenager to his mad cousin Babs, the cast of Old Filth's life turns out to be rich and quirky and not at all what many of his admirers might have guessed as they describe him as someone to whom "nothing happened."
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the best novel I've read this year 7 Aug 2005
By A Customer HALL OF FAME
Although I have no great hopes of Old Filth making even the Booker long-list, it is by far the best work of fiction I've read this year - and I've read the McEwen, the Barnes, the Ishiguro, the Mantel etc. etc that keep getting hyped. They all have their merits, but this is the only one that is a work of art. It is about a generation that rarely gets noticed in fiction, the ones who grew up when Britian still had an Empire, then lost it. Emotionally crippled, brave, uncomplaining and ofdten as successful professionally as they were a mess emotionally, Old Filth is their emblem.
Born in Malaya, he gets handed over to a native wet-nurse, and has five years of happiness before being exiled to a monstrous home in Britain. Gardam quotes the inscription on the wall of the Inner Temple "Lawyers, I suppose, were children once", as with exquisite compassion and irony she shows how Eddie Fevvers had his ripped away from him, and how, like the boy in Kipling's story Baa Baa Black Sheep, tried to defend himself and others against violence and cruelty.
He is healed, somewhat, by a sympathetic best friend who gets killed, and by a teacher who recognises his brilliance and helps him get into Cambridge. A picaresque journey out to the supposed safety of the Far East eventually lead to a distinguished career in Hong Kong, where his wife is unfaithful with his great rival (now neighbour). Yet what is remarkable about the novel isn't the linear progression of a man's life over 90 years, it's the way it shows time in free-fall after bereavement and before death. There is a caustic, comic quality very like Beckett's End Game in its portrayal of the very old. Despite all the tragedies of Filth's life, it manages to keep a kind of buoyancy to it that make is life-affirming as well as very moving. I have read Gardam's other works, but this is, whatever other reviewers say, much better and deeper not least because it places no faith in romantic love as a panacea for all ills.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good read.
Published 1 day ago by P. Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I enjoyed this book tremendously and went on to read the rest of the trilogy.
Published 3 days ago by Nic Rae
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Very enjoyable and well written. Delightful character Old Filth.
Published 15 days ago by Nicole Gavaghan
4.0 out of 5 stars Husband reads wife's obituary and doesn't recognise her
One shouldn’t definitively categorise books according to readers but I think that I have appreciated Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth” (2004) more than I would have if it had been... Read more
Published 17 days ago by DT
5.0 out of 5 stars She really rates Jane Gardam and has thoroughly enjoyed re-reading it
Bought this for my mother who read it at her Library book review club a couple of year ago. She really rates Jane Gardam and has thoroughly enjoyed re-reading it. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Peter E French
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer entertainment
This is Jane Gardam at her very best. It is the tale of Old Filth', the nickname of her character, Sir Edward Feathers, all his life is here. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Ali Mansell
4.0 out of 5 stars Otherwise a good read and I will be reading the next book ...
Found it a little frustrating how you would never have guessed the secret. Otherwise a good read and I will be reading the next book in the series.
Published 28 days ago by Mrs Judy A Hibbert
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull
I love Jane Gardam's books but just could not get into this. Some books are slow and enthralling. Sadly I found this slow and boring. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sharplady
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating and melancholy
The book appealed to me on several levels. I was drawn into the vanished pre and post war worlds of the Far East and England but most of all into the mind of a damaged soul and all... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Michael Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful reading
A wonderful novel,well written first of all alas! Jane Gardam is a wonderful writer who I did,t know . Read more
Published 1 month ago by carlotta
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