Meet Edward Feathers, also known as Sir Edward, Teddy, Fevvers, or Old Filth. Filth is an acronym nickname that stands for Failed In London Try Hong Kong, to describe lawyers who weren’t successful in England and found easier success in the Far East. Now back in England, the death of his wife causes Edward to reexamine the events and people of his childhood and how they shaped him.
Old Filth, composed and wealthy, initially appears to have had a soft life. As Gardam explores his past, the reader sees instead a painful childhood that teaches him toughness, a life of hard luck and tragedy that reveals a surprisingly complex and fascinating character, and a grown man struggling to understand his own identity. The author weaves in and out of time and space and changes perspectives, a style that is both riveting and calls for a deft narrator.
Graeme Malcolm and his posh British accent bring Old Filth to life, complete with his occasional stammer. A prolific and versatile narrator, Malcolm has performed everything from children’s books (Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux) to a John Lennon biography. He shifts easily among locations and perspectives, and captures Old Filth’s bewilderment, as a person who never quite fits in his place or time, with poignancy and humor.
Jane Gardam, a venerated author who has won the Whitbread Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, completely captures a world gone by, when men still changed their shirts before dinner and England was an empire. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s life as a “Raj Orphan” a British citizen born in the Empire, raised by surrogate parents, then torn from his loved ones to be schooled in England Gardam explores themes of love, loss, home, and family with crisp yet moving prose. The more emotional scenes are told without heavy-handed sentimentality and are all the more effective and haunting for it.
Old Filth is a must-listen for Anglophiles, listeners who enjoy memorable characters, and a perfect choice for book clubs. (Check out a companion book, The Man in the Wooden Hat, also performed by Malcolm, that tells Filth’s wife’s story.) Jane Gardam and Graeme Malcolm combine their talents for an exquisite listen. Julie MacDonald
FILTH is a lawyer with a practice in the Far East. A few remember that his nickname stands for Failed In London Try Hong Kong. But Old Filth is not as pompous as people imagine, and his past contains many secrets and dark hiding places.
©2004 Jane Gardam (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
This beautifully written, elliptically told story is matched by a narrator of great skill and discretion -- rather like Filth himself, a lawyer who became rich by disappearing into his work, whose colleagues, finding him unknowable, assume there's nothing to know. There is, it turns out, a lot to know about Edward Feathers, all of it dramatic, human-scaled and utterly satisfying. Gardam tells his story with delicacy, wit and empathy for both Filth and the reader. (Filth experiences a torturous childhood, a topic I personally find almost unendurable in a book. Gardam covers it intelligently, without sensation or prurience). Especially wonderful are the secondary characters, drawn with almost Dickensian verve and particularity. ALL the characters are surprising and sharply drawn.
I had put this one off as everywhere I turned folks raved about the book. Finally, I decided to see for myself what all the hype was about. I was a truly cynical listener as the story started; now I want to rave about it, too! The characters, setting, plotting ... it all works beautifully. Terrific narration made the experience even better.
I appreciate the reviews that others have given this, and I believe Graeme Malcom did a great job narrating. I understand the notion of spare but elegant and deep writing, the interplay between past and present, and the propriety of convention in masking drama of the past. But, I kept having to repeat sections to get their sense and to catch the drama...and while it was usually there, it seemed to be of a lower interest voltage than I was hoping for - certainly some intriguing elements, but overall, I could not find Old Filth to be especially more sympathetic than I would find anyone who lived a complex life. I stopped listening about two hours before the end. But I know that others, almost certainly of more astute sensibilities than I possess, have reason to enjoy this read/listen. It just did not work so well for me.
Old Filth has been reviewed by writers more accomplished than I, but I have to say that the book touched me deeply. There are few modern novelists who are capable of laying a sympathetic foundation for revelations characters make in later life. I appreciated the patient way Jane Gardam lays out this story of resilience in Edward Feathers, the protagonist, and in minor characters, too. Although I am a modern-ish woman, I could identify with the abandonment experienced by Eddie Feathers (as a Raj child) and the confused understandings associated with his own needs for love. The fact that the character explores the impact that abandonment has had on his life and then works in very late life to reconnect with others is an important lesson. We are never too old to reflect on our past and then work to repair our errors. Any of us who have made a childhood pact can understand the burden the demand for secrecy can have, especially if one feels honor bound to uphold the pact throughout a life time. What amazed me is that betrayal Edward Feathers experienced did not keep him from caring for others or staying true to those who helped him. This is a wonderful character study, rich with description and with just enough plot to hold the listener's interest. The reading is wonderful, as well -- not overly done.
I just finished this-- listened 2 times which is unusual for me but I needed to listen a second time for some of the nuances I missed first time around. This is the story of a distinguished lawyer and judge told back and forth thru time. Old Filth--'failed in London, try Hong Kong', is a Raj Orphan. Dark but in a dry, British, 'stiff upper lip' sort of way. The narrator is perfect for the job. This book would be a great book club selection-- lots to discuss. I just downloaded 'The Man in the Wooden Hat' which is his wife's story.
I loved this story and narration. Why haven't I read all of this author's books? I will now - I promise. Wonderful characters, settings, descriptions....all of it! I'd even listen again, which is very very rare for me.
The narrator had just the right tone and inflection for this rather tongue-in-cheek yet poignant story...even has a surprise at the end! Highly recommend.
Graeme Malcom narrates beautifully. Thoroughly enjoyable novel and I highly recommend to follow up with “The Man in the Wooden Hat”.
My only negative comment about Audible books is that you cannot read along as the narrator speaks.
I loved this book. The plight of children being send away time and time again is heartbreaking and told in such a voice of normalcy that it makes one who is not English wonder just how far the English upper lip can stretch.
Filth is a pure example of a child sent away to fend for himself at 5 years of age, and his actions, because of this are true to form. His search for love and belonging is so well written that you can feel the dispare every time he fails. Definitely worth the read
This isn't an exciting book. It's the story of an old judge looking back on his life, and it isn't that fabulous a life. But the writing is lovely, and the character development strong and insightful. The narrator is terrific, portraying the judge in a thoughtful and considered voice. No big thriller moments, here, but the narrator and the prose make it worth listening to. I will certainly be reading the author's other books, and I will listen to any book narrated by Malcom!
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