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Publisher's Summary

Damian Baxter is hugely wealthy and dying. He lives alone in a big house in Surrey, England, looked after by a chauffeur, butler, cook and housemaid. He has but one concern--his fortune in excess of 500 million and who should inherit it on his death. Past Imperfect is the story of a quest. Damian Baxter wishes to know if he has a living heir. By the time he married in his late 30s he was sterile (the result of adult mumps), but what about before that unfortunate illness? Had he sired a child? He sets himself (and others) to the task of finding his heir.
©2008 Julian Fellowes (P)2009 BBC Audio

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  • cristina
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 02-14-13

Read Snobs instead

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.

58 of 58 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Really good plot...but got lost..

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!!

34 of 35 people found this review helpful

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Modern Great Gatsby

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.

48 of 51 people found this review helpful

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Post WWII England

What made the experience of listening to Past Imperfect the most enjoyable?

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.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Richard Morant?


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?


23 of 24 people found this review helpful

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I almost didn't read this book because of the reviews, which would have been such a loss.

After reading Snobs, which was delightful, I almost didn't read this book because of the reviews. Am I so glad that I still decided to tried it.

The book was emotionally moving - not that that recommends it - as it deftly portrays the nuanced and misunderstood history of a pivotal event. Even though it made me cry at the end, I loved this book.

What an amazing person the writer must be to understand and elucidate such subtle complexities of the past with the misunderstandings and poor outcomes they can create. It is a book that reinforces old proverbs about not judging people because you probably don't know what they've been through and about kindness trumping social backgrounds. With all of the overbearing and false didactical themes that clog and rob enjoyment of today's novels, it is refreshing to read a compelling work of fiction with honest motifs. This is a book not to be missed!

31 of 33 people found this review helpful

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The sleeper that woke up quickly

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.

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • connie
  • Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 07-16-10

strangely absorbing

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.

34 of 37 people found this review helpful

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Past Imperfect

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.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

2.5 stars - Not nearly as good as Snobs

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.

22 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • Joe Kraus
  • Kingston, PA, United States
  • 07-11-17

An Elegant Story Clumsily Told

Any additional comments?

The British empire may have died, but its death spasms continue. Fellowes has gotten famous, so I understand, from Downton Abbey – which I have not managed to see – and I thought reading this might give me some flavor of what people seem to admire so much about it.

On the plus side, this is often ‘sumptuous,’ a word I associate with Downton Abbey. We get long descriptions about the lives of assorted aristocrats, their homes, and their hopes. At its best, Fellowes gives nice, insightful portraits of individuals. At its worst, it runs on, tending toward what I might call a pornography of upper class life – descriptions that acknowledge the banality of the whole crowd but that go on to detail their whims and hungers with lingering attention.

All of that is generally what I signed up for: a 21st century English novel of manners. What really disappoints me, though, is the clumsiness of the narrative here. Fellowes can certainly write at the sentence level, but the whole of this feels almost amateurish in its organization.

At an architectural level, this is a Gatsby rewrite. Our narrator is a man of “the crowd,” but he’s on the outskirts of it. Through him, an arriviste pushes his way in, falls in love with a young woman, and then finds he cannot after all reinvent his background sufficiently to win her.

As we get the story, though, it’s presented through the organization of a mystery novel – a staged and dated variation of the old locked-room mystery. The dying Damian tells us that he understands he sired a child on one of his many mistresses of a couple decades before, and he wants to know which woman is the mother. Of course he has a list of all the women he slept with, and, of course, our protagonist/narrator proceeds from one ‘suspect’ to the next.

The organization that follows is so straightforward as to be embarrassing. We get a section dedicated to each – with her name on it in all but the final case – then we get a chapter on life ‘back then’ and a chapter on the present-day ‘interrogation.’ The skill of the sentences obscures the real hack-work underneath. Why, for instance, would one woman confide that she ‘bought’ her child to fake a pregnancy that would force a man to marry her? It’s a story she’s never told anyone, and there’s no conceivable motivation for sharing it when she does; it’s just convenient to the arc of the story as we get it. When he needs an answer to move onto the next chapter, he gets it. And why does each chapter reach a ‘climax’ in which it seems the child in question might be the one…only to have the possibility eliminated by one or another last-second reveal? Again, narrative convenience.

Throughout the novel, we’re teased with the idea of “Portugal,” a final and too-embarrassing-to-speak-of scene that, predictably, we get described near the very end. [SPOILER] So, Damian loses his temper and tells all the upper-class twits off. And he’s an asshole to our narrator. By that point in the novel, our narrator’s more or less forgiven him. It’s not that big a deal, yet it carries the weight of concluding that part of our narrator’s life…even though he admits he remained in contact with his old set over the following decades.

And then there’s a ‘twist’ at the end that’s really frustrating because it violates the spirit of the ‘mystery’ as we’ve gotten it. Someone on the list shouldn’t have been there and vice-versa and, guess what? The most obvious person of all is the one. Fellowes gets to express his contempt for the excesses of the aristocracy – he shows us his appreciation for the common sort after all -- but the wealthy get wealthier, and a sliver of the fine old caste system persists.

I’m probably being harder on this than I should be. I did finish it, after all, and one of its clear sins is its length. Still, I’d heard such good things about Downton Abbey that I have time believing Fellowes had much to do with shaping the way those stories came together.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful