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Review: The Old Filth trilogy by Jane Gardam

Old Filth (2006 ), The Man in the Wooden Hat (2009) and Last Friends (2013)

The central character in the Old Filth trilogy (Failed in London, try Hong Kong), Sir Edward Feathers QC, has been compared in the New York Times to ‘the Dickensian pantheon of memorable characters’. We follow his fortunes from the days of the British Empire through the Second World War to the present day.

I was very happy to have had the recommendation to read Jane Gardam’s Old Filth trilogy. I found all three books enthralling and hard to put down. I discovered that Ms Gardam, now in her 90s, lives in the south of England. Her late husband was a distinguished barrister and both England and the Law are important threads in this tapestry, which involves the lives of children who were ‘Raj orphans’, that is children born in the Far East colonies and raised in Great Britain. When Ms Gardam researched this topic she found some of the reports so horrific she had to stop reading. We cleverly are led to visit and revisit characters throughout. I felt close to them all. (I had a wee fancy for Edward Feathers, the ‘Old Filth’ of the title. Who doesn’t?) We go back and forward in time and there are surprises and laughs and tears.

I read the following in a review of the trilogy and found it worth stealing: the books represent ‘the horrible binds that people find themselves cast into by circumstances and characters, and crucially the strategies they use in order to survive: strategies that involve large doses of gallows humour and fiercely marshalled reserves of fortitude’. I wanted to include this too, reading it on the rebound of the final book. I teared. Jane Gardam said herself: ‘If there is one thing I really believe about fiction and life it’s that there are no minor characters.’ If I were asked what I consider to be the moral of the tale, I would readily say ‘Avoid assumptions’.

Review by Library Member