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Old Filth
Jane Gardam
Adult Fiction GARDAM

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From Publishers' Weekly:

British novelist Gardam has twice won the Whitbread and was shortlisted for the Man Booker. This, her 15th novel, was shortlisted in Britain for the Orange Prize; it outlines 20th-century British history through the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a barrister whose acronymic nickname provides the title: "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong." At nearly 80, Feathers, retired in Dorset after many years as a respected Hong Kong judge, is a hollow man with few real friends and a cold, sexless marriage that has just ended with the death of his wife, Betty. For the first time, "Filth" (as even Betty called him) delves into the past that produced him: a "Raj orphan" raised by a series of surrogates while his father worked in Singapore, Filth served briefly in WWII (guarding the Queen) and had a lackluster stint as a London barrister before emigrating. The flashbacks contrast British privilege and the chaos that ensues when the empire (especially Filth's childhood Malaya), starts to crumble. As Filth undertakes chaotic visits to his Welsh foster home and other sites, Gardam's sharp, acerbic style counterpoints Feathers's dryness. Well-rounded secondary figures further highlight his emptiness and that of empire. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

Gardam's impressive oeuvre runs to over 25 books for adults and children, including Whitbread Prize winners The Queen of the Tambourine and The Hollow Land, but her latest has the freshness and energy of a particularly brilliant first novel. Filth (short for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong") is a retired international lawyer who has recently been widowed. Left to contemplate his long marriage, the moral contradictions of his career, and the passionate hatred he harbors for his next-door neighbor, Filth keeps returning to the trauma of his childhood as a "Raj orphan," one of the countless colonial children sent away from their parents to be educated in a "home" in an England they had never known. The various meanings of "home" and the gap between the public persona and the private person are just two of the complex themes that Gardam treats here with the lightest of touches. Both witty and poignant, this work is more than a character study; through her protagonist, Gardam offers a view of the last days of empire as seen from post-9/11 Britain. Strongly recommended.-Leora Bersohn, Columbia Univ., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Sir Edward Feathers
Age: 80
Nicknamed Filth; was a respected judge for many years in Hong Kong; has few friends; was in a sexless loveless marriage; wife recently passed away; mother died in childbirth; father never spoke to him; spent his childhood in Wales with an abusive foster mother and then at numerous boarding schools; served briefly in World War II; spent a brief time as a London lawyer; on a journey to rediscover his past.

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