*Note: As you can imagine, we’ve got lots of voracious readers on staff here at UDPL, so we’ll be sharing their recommendations and reading adventures on a periodic basis.
This review of the Old Filth trilogy is by Library Assistant Helen Miller—you’ve likely run into the ever-helpful and cheerful Helen at the library front desk.
I enjoyed reading Jane Gardam’s trilogy beginning with Old Filth. The main character is Edward Feathers, a British barrister, who acquires the nickname Old Filth standing for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong. The book details his life and especially his marriage. Gardam uses flashbacks to focus on crucial turning points in his life and at book’s end reveals a stunning childhood secret that shaped his very being and reverberated long into the future.
The Man in the Wooden Hat, Book II, turns everything upside down by examining the very same events but this time from the perspective of his wife Betty. Little nuggets of information that we had not been privy to in Book I alter our conclusions about Edward’s character. “By their actions ye shall know them” proves an apt way of thinking about both people in this long marriage.
Book III, Last Friends, again changes our view by focusing on Betty’s lover, Terry Veneering. He is an odd and somewhat opaque character whose affair with Betty has earned Old Filth’s hatred. Gardam skillfully plays with our earlier conclusions and shows us how mysterious people’s lives can be. You think you know someone, he/she is completely familiar but deep down where it most matters you do not know them at all. Secrets withheld, notions of propriety, faithfulness to promises, and unwillingness to communicate all play their part in three lives irrevocably entangled with each other.
You won’t soon forget these books or these characters, or the way Gardam slips in those surprising revelations at the end of each book. She is a masterful writer.