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Old Filth (Old Filth #1)

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  6,810 ratings  ·  1,224 reviews
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 (FILTH being an acronym for Failed In London Try Hong Kong) to his final working days as a respected judge at the English bar. Yet through it all he has carried with him the wounds of a difficult and emotionally hollow childhood. Now an ...more
Paperback, 290 pages
Published June 1st 2006 by Europa Editions (first published 2004)
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel BarberyOld Filth by Jane GardamA Novel Bookstore by Laurence CosséThe Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina BronskyThe Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
Europa Edition Books
2nd out of 88 books — 104 voters
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel BarberyOld Filth by Jane GardamFrom the Land of the Moon by Milena AgusA Novel Bookstore by Laurence CosséThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
Best of Europa Editions
2nd out of 20 books — 22 voters

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Community Reviews

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I bought Old Filth way back in 2008, when I only had a few hundred books in my library, when that library only increased by a few books each month, and when I had only been on Goodreads for a year or so and hadn't met most of you fine people and your shelves yet. It seemed interesting. Rather, it seemed like a good thing to read after John Williams' Stoner. But I didn't read it then, and so, five years later, my library approaching a thousand books with a few dozen added monthly and more added t ...more
Marvelous. Great read! Why? Well, it is informative - it depicts the life of a Raj orphan, of which there were many. Through books such as this history becomes real, not just a subject of dates and numbers. I like learning as I read. Furthermore FILTH, the main character of the book, does not have an ordinary life, but as the author emphasizes everyone mistakenly thought he did. How often do we think that that person doesn't have our problems? Think if we only knew more about all these ordinary ...more
I'm not sure why I love Jane Gardam's writing as much as I do. She bowls me over. I'm hoping that it's more than the fact that she writes about the kind of people I grew up with; my background is solid upper middle class - strong emphasis on education, high parental expectations, all that good stuff, so that the academics, barristers, doctors and other professionals who populate her fiction form a milieu which is instantly recognizable to me. But it is more than that - she is a bloody good write ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
Photobucket Pictures, Images and PhotosFor those of us who reveled in The Raj Quartet mini-series back in the 1980's, this is a gift. It tells the tale of a barrister who returns to England to die after having spent his adulthood in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the British Empire. In a series of flashbacks (the plot is not linear), we learn about his troubled childhood, first as a motherless child in Malaysia and then as a Raj orphan. Edward Feathers, nicknamed Filth (failed in London, try Hong Kong) is a legend in his profession ...more
"Old Filth" is one of those critically approbated books that I feel I "should" like more than I actually did. Detailing the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a distinguished advocate and judge, Jane Gardam presents a detailed character study of a man who is, quite literally, a foreigner in his own life.

I respect Gardam's economic prose as well as her Dickensian cast of characters. The problem is that I simply did not "connect" to the novel. I admired it, but I simply didn't enjoy my time with it. Ol
Captivating. One of the most rewarding things about reading is discovering a character, a piece of history, a perhaps arcane bit of information that somehow finds its way into your life, even if it just leads you to another great book. Old Filth was the first time I had ever heard the term "Raj Orphans," referring to the children of British citizens posted in Asia during Britain's rule who were sent back to England (or Wales, or Scotland, etc.) to be raised by distant family members or foster fa ...more
Oct 02, 2008 Julia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone (especially Katy Lain & Amy White)
Recommended to Julia by: I read it for book club
I really enjoyed this book - it is a British book, so there is quite a bit of uncommon (to Americans) vocabulary, but don't let it put you off, it is a bit like seeing a British film, once you just sit back and relax about it and don't worry about what each word means, you will thoroughly enjoy it. The story is wonderful and the manner in which it is written, between the past and the present, is well done. Don't let the title put you off, either. You will quickly learn that Filth stands for Fail ...more
I liked old Filth because it tells a story I never heard before. The main character is English, though born in Malasia. It seems that children were frequently schooled in England with little or no contact with their parents. I've watched lots of PBS series which took place in Asia and everyone was so English. I didn't realize that many families were sliced open and then glued back.
This novel tells of the trauma this practice can cause. It also hints of a mystery. There is a lot of foreboding, bu
I'm reading it through a second time! It's incredible how many little secrets are hidden that I did NOT notice the first time. Well, of course, the first time I did not know to what those little nuggets were referring and now I do. It is almost better the second time around - or at least I'm appreciating the depth of it more.

This is one of those books that I didn't enjoy reading that much, BUT I did and do really appreciate it in the overall and in retrospect. I think the author was really tale
Evanston Public  Library
This witty novel was inspired by Rudyard Kipling's life as a "Raj orphan," that is, a British child born in the Eastern empire and shipped back home to be raised by surrogate parents. Old Filth, Edward Feathers, one such "orphan," is now in his 80s and living in England after a successful career as a barrister in Hong Kong. We first meet Old Filth (filth standing for "failed in London, try Hong Kong") snoozing in a chair at the Inner Temple being observed by some young barristers who comment tha ...more
I was skeptical at first, but it really is a brilliant book: the plotting, characters, and description all come together just right. I'm not going to re-hash the plot, which can be found elsewhere, except that I'm now quite curious as to whether Gardam always intended the "sequel" to cover the Hong Kong years (barely touched on here), before starting this one, or whether she started this one first, and later decided: "Rather than making this one into an opus, I'll do a separate Hong Kong one (fr ...more
Matt Brady
This wasn't what I expected at all. The title of the book (Filth is an acronym "Failed In London, Try Hong kong"), the back cover blurb and even the prologue had me anticipating something along the lines of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman books; a morally deficient yet likeable rascal and his adventures throughout key historical episodes of the 20th century. Though Old Filth is very funny at times, the book itself is much more serious and contemplative than that.

Sir Edward Feathers has retire
martha Boyle
This is a very British book--and it is one of the best novels I have read in the past 10 years. I will put it up there with Atonement--but can't really compare the two as Old Filth has much more wit and humor along with the pathos. In other words, it made me laugh and cry. It's is such a celebration of good writing--and the story is compelling enough that after a very brief slow start, I was carried along with the story and found it hard to put down for two days.
Old Filth is an acronym for Faile
3 and 1/2 stars

I enjoyed this, though not as much as some of my GR friends did. It's written in an entertaining, amusing (even sometimes breezy) style, but also with insight as to what it might've been like to be a Raj orphan -- that was the most interesting aspect of the book to me, as I've read lots of novels set in the Raj and post-Raj time periods but none that focus on that issue.

The book lost me, for some reason, along the way, around the time Queen Mary is introduced, and I think the sect
As Eddie Feathers enters his last days he, like the narrator of Julian Barnes's SENSE OF AN ENDING, feels compelled to revisit the places and people that formed him and locked him tight within himself. His deeply hurtful fictional biography mirrors the final period of the British Empire. Eddie's "club" is not dissimilar from Dickens's clusters of odd and grotesque characters who keep finding each other as if they came from a small village. And as disparate as Eddie's experiences are, from abando ...more
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
How must you live your life?

Old, retired (from a long career in law), childless, his wife dead, with nothing much but his memories, his ancient hates and eternal hurts, Old Filth nevertheless shines unforgettably at the center of this wonderful story-telling by Jane Gardam.
FILTH is an acronym for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong. Old Filth, Sir Edward Feathers, is a retired, rather famous judge. He and his wife return to England for their retirement.

This book is comic in parts, but also poignant. Edward was what is known as a "Raj orphan." His mother died in childbirth and after several years of living with a native family in Malaysia, Edward is sent to live in Wales with a woman who abuses him. Edward's father never sees him, so Edward grows up without affection i
Filth stands for "Failed In London, Try Hong kong." It's a story about an old British lawyer and judge who dispersed justice in Hong Kong, India and other former Far East colonies of the Empire, although his work was mentioned briefly, only as an afterthought to outline his outstanding reputation as a lawmaker. He retires with his wife to Dorset, she dies (while planting tulips in the garden) and that sends him to revisit people and places from his childhood and youth. Through these travels, the ...more
This book reminded me a bit of The God of Small Things in that the story was told in a seemingly random order. I found this pretty confusing through most of the book, and though I did come to appreciate its brilliance, I'm giving it a lukewarm three stars because I found the confusion alienating.

This book tells the story of Eddie Feathers, whose nickname "Filth" stands for "failed in London try Hong Kong." (Incidentally, the distance between Edward and his wife notwithstanding, it required some
Kim Allen-Niesen
Old Filth by Jane Gardam is well-written intriguing portrait of the British children of colonialism. Old Filth was born overseas and raised first by a local nanny, then sent back “home” for his education. He worked his entire life in the legal establishment in Hong Kong, maybe not as a stunning legal scholar, but one who earned deep respect. He and his wife return to England in their retirement. The author does an excellent job of portraying Old Filth's proper behavior to the extent that it seem ...more
An unexpectedly excellent book that I bought because of the title and had come to dread reading. “Filth” stands for “failed in London try Hong Kong,” and the thumbnail story line is “Raj orphan British attorney who made a fortune in Hong Kong looks back at his life.” Sounds like such a yawn but it isn’t and I loved it. The interaction among characters makes the book, and the moments of grace. I will be forcing this on some unsuspecting soul soon.
Great novel, read it on the way back from Czech Republic. Children's experiences informing later life, individuals and cultural change, history, family...
Apr 02, 2009 Karen added it
I resisted reading this book because of the title, but when I finally did, I thought it was great. FILTH stands for "Failed in London, try Hong Kong" and the book tells the story of a British man who rose to prominence in Hong Kong then retires to Enlgand. I was fascinated by the whole orphans of the Raj story, which I hadn't known about, and how Gardam shows that those experiences in cildhood can change a character for life, affect a marriage--this was one of the most honest parts of the book, ...more
Old Filth. "Failed in London, tried Hong Kong". He is an old man now, a former lawyer and then judge who personified England's colonialist outposts. His memories of his years as a 'Raj orphan', of his education and early career in England, and of those other lives that became intertwined with his, all become admixed and blend together with his present day falling into frailty. His life was bound up into the highlights of the history of Britain in the twentieth century. It is a description of a t ...more
Read this for a book group (part of my synagogue shopping here in IL) -- really liked it, and given the first aborted attempts at starting, that was surprising. Also, I generally don't like the "let's reveal surprising things little by little" type books, but this was done so perfectly, that even when I suspected something or wasn't all that surprised, it was fun to uncover. An expat book that takes place mostly in the UK, although the characters spend most of their lives abroad -- very interest ...more
Sep 24, 2007 Dee rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Raj Quartet lovers; end of Empire; Evelyn Waugh-esques
Old Filth is a judge in the last days of colonial England--his name is an acronym for Failed in London, Try Hongkong. This is a literate and wonderful elegy of his last days, looping around to his earliest experiences as a Raj orphan, a child sent home from India by himself to be educated. It's got all the signifiers you would expect in upper middle class books about English boys, including louche barding school experiences, a certain kind of obtuseness of character, irony, and beautiful writing ...more
Dec 15, 2011 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sue by: for Constant Reader
Wonderfully written story of a lawyer's life, a man who never was loved by family, only by extras in his life, and never really felt at home in himself or the world. Recommended.
Morticia Adams
Despite being very funny in parts, Old Filth overall is quite a sad book. But a great and memorable read.

The protagonist, Sir Edward Feathers ,or Old Filth, is a famous and successful lawyer and later judge; we are given barely a glimpse however of his active professional life, the narrative constantly swinging from his early childhood years, and gauche youth, to his lonely old age.

Filth is clever, witty and good-looking, with the ability to charm and mesmerise people who meet him; and he has a
My five goodreads friends who have rated this book have all given it 4 or 5 stars (as have most GR members, period), but something just kept me from connecting deeply with it. I'm sure there are many fascinating stories that could be told about Raj orphans, and I kept finding myself wondering why Gardam chose to tell this particular story in this particular way. Young Eddie and "Old Filth" did not seem like the same person -- it felt like a lot was missing from this depiction of a life. I also f ...more
Published in 2004 by the English author Jane Gardam, Old Filth is the story of Sir Edward Feathers, an eminent and renowned judge who made his career in Hong Kong after a few undistinguished years as a solicitor in London (he himself created the acronym “Filth,” the letters of which mean “Failed in London, Try Hong Kong”), returning with his wife Betty to Dorset upon his retirement. Following the death of Betty, he stays in England for a period of time, eventually returning to the East.

The story
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Jane Mary Gardam OBE is a British author of children's and adult fiction. She also reviews for the Spectator and the Telegraph, and writes for BBC radio. She lives in Kent, Wimbledon and Yorkshire. She has won numerous literary awards including the Whitbread Award, twice. She is mother of Tim Gardam, Principal of St Anne's College, Oxford. Jane has been awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for ...more
More about Jane Gardam...

Other Books in the Series

Old Filth (3 books)
  • The Man in the Wooden Hat (Old Filth, #2)
  • Last Friends (Old Filth, #3)

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“If you've not been loved as a child, you don't know how to love a child.” 14 likes
“Present us with a silver cup for something when you're a filthy rich lawyer, I dare say? Yes. You'll be a lawyer. Magnificent memory. Sense of logic, no imagination and no brains.” 2 likes
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