'This witty modern classic is perfect lockdown reading' The Times
'I love Jane Gardam, especially Old Filth' Nina Stibbe
'Her work, like Sylvia Townsend Warner's, has that appealing combination of elegance, erudition and flinty wit' Patrick Gale
'One of the finest writers around. Old Filth has stayed with me for years...Can't think of anyone who achieves so much with so few words' Sathnam Sanghera
Sir Edward Feathers has had a brilliant career, from his early days as a lawyer in Southeast Asia, where he earned the nickname Old Filth (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong) to his final working days as a respected judge at the bar. Yet through it all he has carried with him the wounds of a difficult and emotionally hollow childhood.
Now an eighty-year-old widower living in comfortable seclusion in Dorset, Feathers is finally free from the demands of his work and the sentimental scaffolding that has sustained him throughout his life. He slips back into the past with ever mounting frequency and intensity, and on the tide of these vivid, lyrical musings, Feathers approaches a reckoning with his own history. Not all the old filth, it seems, can be cleaned away.
Jane Gardam has written a literary masterpiece that retraces much of the twentieth century's torrid and momentous history. Feathers' childhood in Malaya during the British Empire's heyday, his schooling in pre-war England, his professional success in Southeast Asia and his return to England toward the end of the millennium, are vantage points from which the reader can observe the march forward of an eventful era and the steady progress of that man, Sir Edward Feathers, Old Filth himself, who embodies the century's fate.
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.