©2008 Julian Fellowes; (P)2009 BBC Audio
Narrative makes the world go round.
This consists of the reflections of a self-absorbed narrator on a quest on behalf of a self-absorbed dying contemporary whom he dislikes. The chappy holds rather improbable confessional conversations with those he encounters along the way, former aristocratic Brit debutantes of the late 60s. His reflections chronicle the fate of the old ruling classes and the rise of the new in Britain, all while he questions what holds life together for the comfortable classes in the postmodern world.
The story is amusing (though not in the laugh out loud mode) and works as a mystery but could have used one more edit. The audio narration is neat and dry which suits the novel's narrator. The social history detail is interesting, though be prepared for too much detail on furniture and dress.
Strangely the whole came together as a very absorbing listen for me - kind of the talented Mr Ripley reminiscences Gosford Park minus the murders.
I loved this book! Julian Fellowes writes beautifully and Richard Morant has the perfect voice as the long-suffering friend of all the debutantes and the quietly bemused observer of British social history. Fellowes uses a small group of debutantes from the 1960's to demonstrate the huge changes to the British social structure from the last half of the 20th century to the present. But this is not "Sex and the City Goes to England", although it is just as lively and topical in references. I was struck by how much it mirrors The Great Gatsby in theme and characters. This book is every bit as good as that old war horse.
As an ex-video clerk from Sacramento, CA I have no personal experience with British Aristocracy but there's something about authenticity, you can smell it like a ripe peach, and Julian Fellowes writing has all that.
The story idea sounded great. The style of writing with wordy descriptions painted a clear picture, which was good in the beginning, but then...well I kept falling asleep listening to it. The parts where things actually happen are good, but the description in between the actual story line is coma-inducing. Get on with the story already!!
I loved Snobs and immediately downloaded Past Imperfect. I have to say I was very disappointed. The idea is good, but poorly executed, making the stories of all the characters seem way too disconnected.
Julian Fellowes, who makes his point about the British Upper Class so masterfully in Snobs, sounds more like a lecturer here. Instead of letting us "see," he tells us what he knows (and goes on and on about each point, interrupting the storyline constantly). It sounded more like an anthropological treatise than a novel. At times, it was even boring.
Yes, there is one scene towards the end that is incredibly well written and moving because of it -- but I wish there had been more like it.
That said, I would definitely give Mr. Fellowes another chance if he were to write another novel -- simply based on Snobs and Downton Abbey (which I had not seen until after I listened to these two books and to which I am absolutely addicted to now).
Richard Morant is absolutely perfect as the narrator. I think I could listen to him read the London phone book and be engrossed.
It's a fun commentary on English society. Great "types." The reader's voice and accent add to the reading; mispronunciations are at a minimum.
Worth the listen.
For the first 20 minutes I thought I hated the book and the narrator. Thereafter, I could not turn it off. I'm generally not into this genre but this book/narrator combination is one of the best, if not the best, in its niche.
I wanted to like this book and since I liked Snobs, I didn't want to write a poor review but listener reviews are too important to me to let this go. there are many reasons why I didn't like this book too much, but not much to do with the narrator - at 1st thought he was too monotone but really it was due to the book. This is a first person acct of a young mans life in the midst of the English upper class & families of some dukes and lords, particularly as it relates to one important event in a circle of firends that affects many of their lives. The main character is recounting events of a coming-out season that happened nearly forty years ago in 1968. And he continually makes comments about those events or what they did, as being hard to believe by today's standards, but they actually did do them back then! This is unnecessary and intrusive to the story. Certainly any reader who has ever read any fiction that is not set in the here and now understands that things were different in a different time and place. We know fashions, dances and music was different then.
Secondly, the author seems to step into the narrative to state a few deeply felt problems with todays culture. Maybe it was meant to be the feelings of the main character, but it didn't feel that way.
The first half of the book deserves no more than 2 stars, in my opinion and second half was better - 3 stars, so 2.5 average, but I gave it 2 because I really couldn't recommend this audiobook to anyone. I will say that what was good (I felt) was probably an authentic look at a comming-out season in the 60s and what typically became of some of those people today. In the second half of the book, I begain to care for the characters and did want to know about the outcome of the story.
After engaging in a Masterpiece Theatre television series spree, I was still thirsting for more British entertainment. This novel sated my desire.
It takes place in post WWII England when the landed gentry were trying to practice their traditions despite the tumultuous social upheaval of the 60's breaking out around them. It's the story of a group of mostly upper class British students walking through the same white tie social events their parents enjoyed a generation earlier. One of the crowd, now elderly and dying of cancer, asks the help of the narrator, an estranged friend, in searching for a heir to his vast fortune. Like the plot of Citizen Kane, this narrator revisits the members of the group to fill in the blanks of their varied lives.
The dying man's controversial role in the group in their youth colors most of the interviews. We hear references to an awful humiliation committed by the wealthy dying man against our narrator. Appropriately, it is not until the end of the book that we find out the truth about the unknown existence of the heir and the truth about the awful night reference throughout the novel.
Without giving it away, I was amused by the actual event that had caused such rifts and controversies amidst this group. Compared to what we witness on reality tv, it was minor. Regardless, I felt quite sympathetic toward the narrator, as he went through the transition from middle to old age maneuvering through modern living by way of his anachronistic upbringing.
It was very enjoyable if tame. The recording itself was varied in its quality to the point where I wasn't always sure it was the same narrator, but those inconsistencies weren't too distracting.
The observations and emotional reactions in this book were so unusually perceptive I found myself thinking about them for a long time afterwards. In very few words Julian Fellowes was able to create fully-realized personalities so clearly in my mind's eye. His insights about women were especially striking, I'm surprised that a man could be capable of seeing so much. On a basic level, this book is about meeting up with friends again after many years. Each time the narrator began privately mused about the differences between the young friend he remembered and the old friend standing in front of him, I braced myself for cruelty. But instead the assessments were considerate and thought provoking. It actually made me feel better about getting older somehow.
This is the best modern fiction book I've read in a long time. I suppose one could describe it as sort of an updated Jane Austen, though a bit racier obviously because it’s set in our time. In the book, the main character is on an interesting investigative errand for a friend from the past, so he is traversing back and forth between his memory describing events and characters in the 1960′s and actual goings on in the 2000′s, while giving generous descriptions of how the aristocracy changed in the Post-WWII world, and how sensibilities and norms had changed from the sixties to the present day. Fellowes is an acute observer of history and cultural evolution (or devolution), and he weaves many observations into this story, to the point that it's almost a work of historical fiction. A few excerpts:
“I think there have been times when the majority felt they belonged to a culture that was working, that they had an identity within a worthwhile whole. “I am a Roman Citizen,” “God Bless America,” “The man who is born an Englishman has drawn a winning ticket in the lottery of life.” All that. People have felt their own civilisation was valuable and that they were lucky to belong to it. I’m fairly sure I believed that too, or something like it, forty years ago.”
“Why do modern leaders not grasp that their job is to control antisocial behaviour but not private activity; to regulate our actions as regards others, but not where they only concern ourselves? At times it is hard not to feel that as a culture we are lost, in permanent denial and spinning in the void.”
“For anyone, hearing of the death of a person you had thought alive and well is a little like killing them because suddenly they’re dead in your brain instead of living. But with the Sixties generation it is more than this. They preached the value of youth so loudly and so long that they cannot believe an unkind God has let them grow old. Still less can they accept they too must die. As if their determination to adopt clothes and prejudices more suited to people thirty, forty, fifty years younger than themselves would act as an elixir to keep them forever from the clutches of the Grim Reaper.”
“Even if I am not a fan of change for change’s sake, nor indeed of most change if it comes to that, I am fairly sure that in the end we will all be better off for living in a world where any kind of sexuality is compatible with the twin notions of decency and commitment. But I suppose I just wish the whole subject could drop into the background again where it used to be, and not be compulsorily worn around society’s neck day in, day out.”
“I suppose I was in shock, as they say now, but I don’t think we had “shock” in those days. I think you were just supposed to go for a walk and get on with it.”
I found his writing style smart and witty, but really just lovely. The story is interesting, not only because it’s a bit of a mystery, but because he weaves in historical and cultural observations. And Richard Morant was really the perfect choice for narrator. Very well done!
Whenever I find myself between books, not quite sure what I want to take on next, I'll listen to Past Imperfect again. It's been five times now, and I should expect over the coming years, will probably be five more. It's like an old friend.
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