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142 Reviews
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83 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, subtle and very funny
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...
Published on 30 Oct 2006 by bookpike

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What's the point?
My wife recommended this novel to me after having laughed out loud several times during her reading of it.I'm afraid that the odd smile was all that it raised in me.

I found the central character very difficult to get to know.He seemed to change shape depending on the circumstance in which Gardam placed him.At times he is decent and deeply thoughtful,at others...
Published on 1 Oct 2011 by Valentine Gersbach


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83 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, subtle and very funny, 30 Oct 2006
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This review is from: Old Filth (Paperback)
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
By 
Eleanor Hulme (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Old Filth (Paperback)
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 (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Old Filth (Paperback)
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
This review is from: Old Filth (Hardcover)
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
This review is from: Old Filth (Hardcover)
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unquestionable five stars, 6 Jun 2005
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This review is from: Old Filth (Hardcover)
Jane Gardam's novel is very funny, very sad and very clever. Using the style and techniques of a detective thriller the shallowness and sadness of the life of Edward Fevvers -- distinguished advocate, judge and pillar of the Hong Kong Bar but equally 'Raj orphan', unloved youth, unloved husband and unhappy old man -- is laid bare. Through clever but unfussy writing, excellent pacing and narrative timing, the reader is drawn completely into wanting to discover the secret of Fevvers' outlook on his world. Hinted at throughout the story, the dark episode that lies at the heart of the man's conduct and attitudes is only revealed at the conclusion.
Although the final line is devastatingly sad, overall the book is extremely entertaining -- full of sly jokes, clever insights and vivid characters.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What's the point?, 1 Oct 2011
This review is from: Old Filth (Paperback)
My wife recommended this novel to me after having laughed out loud several times during her reading of it.I'm afraid that the odd smile was all that it raised in me.

I found the central character very difficult to get to know.He seemed to change shape depending on the circumstance in which Gardam placed him.At times he is decent and deeply thoughtful,at others capable of crass insensitivity especially towards people who work for him.Relationships which are at one minute portrayed as fundamental to him are forgotten for pages on end,then dragged back into view to provide impetus to a flagging plot.Similarly,the characters around him flit in and out of his life sporting character traits which seemingly differ to meet the particular requirements of that stage of the novel.They also have the endearing habit of turning up completely out of the blue at just the right time to save Filth's skin or further his career or to furnish touching or humorous moments for the reader.I'll allow a novelist one such event in a book before I start to suspect a serious lack of direction in the plot,here there were several.

In the end,I was at a loss to identify the purpose of the novel.What was being said about Filth apart from the fact that he had had an unusual upbringing and was irresistible to most women?Was it that his childhood experiences were being shown to have some impact on his later career?Was this some kind of indictment of how children from colonial families were treated between the wars?Or is the novel just a mildly jokey,sometimes sentimental,picaresque entertainment dressed up as something rather grander?

I was surprised by the number of supporters of this book and thought perhaps I was missing something,then I remembered the Queen Mary section and knocked it down to two stars from three-if ever a sequence in a novel smacked of desperation for material,it was that one.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rembrandt portrait of a man - funny, tragic, compelling, 19 Jan 2005
By 
A. Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Old Filth (Hardcover)
Although I haven't quite finished it yet, I already know this is the novel I'll be urging readers to buy this year. It's so good I'm savouring it every night...like Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire, it has the absolute mastery of tone which perhaps can only come at the peak of a novelist's career.
Old Filth (Failed In London Try Hong Kong)is a retired octogenarian barrister whose formidable wife Betty has just died. Unable to feel her loss consciously, he drives across England to visit the other two "Raj orphans" of his boyhood, both women, having an "internal telephone conversation" with his dead wife while pretending things are normal. Interwoven with this is the story of Edward Fevvers, whose mother died in childbirth and who was exiled from the paradise in Malasia where his malarial father lived. His betrayals and reversals make up an agonising portrait of mental suffering which is never fully confronted, but which is also mediated by a gift for irony. Gardam is one of our finest writers, and her perennial theme is how the human spirit survives despite great loneliness and against seemingly insurmountable odds. Her other great novels are Crusoe's Daughter, God on the Rocks and Queen of the Tambourine. If she doesn't at least get short-listed for the Booker with this it will be a crying shame.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book: sad, funny. evocative of a past era, 14 July 2010
By 
Bluebell (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Old Filth (Hardcover)
Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat are two sides of the same story: the former from the point of view of former Barrister Sir Edward Feathers (the eponymous Old Filth) and the latter from that of his wife Betty. Both books are very worth reading but Old Filth, which was published first is the greater experience. The story flips back and forth between Edward retired and in 80s to his early life as a mother-less child in Malaya, his shipping back to England at an early age to foster parents, his school days and his extraordinary experiences during the war. Jane Gardam really brings the past to life: the sense of abandonment that children must have felt when sent home while their parents remained in the Far East; the privations and fears during the Second World War; and the bewilderment that some elderly people feel when confronted with the modern world. However the melancholy themes are leavened by the authors gift for humour and the creation of some great characters that reminded me of Evelyn Waugh's writings, such as The Sword of Honour Trilogy: Men at Arms, Officers and and Scoop: A Novel About Journalists (Penguin Modern Classics).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly wonderful book, 21 May 2010
By 
Dr. Tom Bell "Tom Bell" (Devon UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Old Filth (Paperback)
For those of us who are children of orphans of the RAJ this is such a wonderful book.
She write beautifully. Sad, poignant, sympathetic to all her characters. She shows just how people of such toughness and self reliance might come about. Surviving their hard life they did with no self pity and great resourcefullness. They are an amazing and admirable generation. From where I am they sometimes seem astonishingly detached. How sensible they are.
I just loved this book and I will in time read it again. Not before i have read The Man with a Wooden Hat , giving as it were Betty's side of the story.
I enjoyed this book as much as any I have ever read.
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