Famous barrister Sir Edward Feathers and his wife, return Home to retire in Dorset, England after many years living in the Far East. Feathers, known affectionately as Old Filth (Failed in London Try Hong Kong) tries to settle into the country life but memories haunt him – of his Malay childhood, of his distant father, of his school days and the war years, and most inconveniently, about his foster home in Wales, memories normally as skirted over and unexamined as his marriage of convenience to the capable Betty.
Jane Gardam’s 2005 tragicomic novel effortlessly captures the language and mores of ex-pats and Raj orphans, portraying the suppressed emotions of the British upper classes and their determination to Get On With it, no matter what. Old Filth embodies a generation, indeed an Empire, which only approaches a painful self-reflection at the moment of it’s dying. For Old Filth, for Great Britain, the definition of Home is anything but clear.
Gardam is a wonderful new discovery to me, I’m ashamed to say, as she has been publishing since 1975, and consistently winning or being short-listed for numerous literary prizes. Her latest novel, The Man in the Wooden Hat, is now available in the US. A follow-up to Old Filth, it calls enticingly from my shelf not simply because of the promise of its contents but because it is printed by Europa Editions, a publisher of aesthetically delicious paperbacks.