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Old Filth (Old Filth #1)

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  9,432 Ratings  ·  1,512 Reviews

Sir Edward Feathers has progressed from struggling young barrister to wealthy expatriate lawyer to distinguished retired judge, living out his last days in comfortable seclusion in Dorset. The engrossing and moving account of his life, from birth in colonial Malaya, to Wales, where he is sent as a "Raj orphan," to Oxford, his career and marriage, parallels much of the 20th

Paperback, 260 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by Abacus (UK) (first published 2004)
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Feb 17, 2017 Elyse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"His colleagues at the Bar called him Filth, but not out of irony. It was because he
was considered to be the source of the old joke, Failed in London, Try in Hong Kong.
It was said that he had fled the London Bar, very young, very poor, on a sudden whim
just after the War, and had done magnificently well in Hong Kong from the start.
Being a modest man, they said, he called himself a parvenu, a fraud, a carefree spirit".
"Filth in fact was no great maker of jokes, was not at all modest about hi
Sep 11, 2008 Jacob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
FILTH is an acronym for "Failed in London, Try Hong Kong". That's what his colleagues at the Bar called him, but not out of irony. And Eddie Feathers, or later in his life also known as Sir Edward Feathers, was one of the professional Brits landing up in the outposts of the British Empire. In his case, his parents were already there and he actually was born in Malaya (now Malaysia). His mother passed away after his birth, leaving a scared, emotionally unattached father to first hand him over to ...more
Reading this book at first I thought it was superlative, further on I simply thought it merely excellent, but by the end I suppose I felt it was just very good. Although I do wonder mildly quite what the Orange prize winner in 2005 was like if this was only one of the also rans.

Old Filth is an end of life story. The title is the nickname and old joke of the central character - Failed in London, try Hong Kong - a former judge, barrister, and abused child.

The novel's chapters alternate between the
Dec 07, 2007 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 02, 2010 Jeff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"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
Jul 19, 2013 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first heard about this book on one of those recommended reading lists one comes across at the beginning of the summer. Not sure who exactly it was who recommended it, maybe Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post or maybe someone from NPR, maybe both. Whoever it was, the book sounded interesting, so I added it to my list of books to read. Recently, on a trip to my public library, I stopped at a display bookcase entitled “Find a good book to curl up with” and there it was. It didn’t have to invit ...more
Aug 28, 2008 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Gary  the Bookworm
Sep 10, 2012 Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lyn Elliott
Feb 10, 2015 Lyn Elliott rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I loved this book.
I picked it up thinking the title looked like fun and found myself instead in a book about emotional constriction and concealments in the lives of retired judge Sir Edward Feathers (Old Filth himself), his wife Betty and the third main character, Veneering.
While the story has tragic elements that other writers might turn into sentimental slush, Gardam maintains a superb balance between tragedy and comedy, making this book about displaced lives very easy to read, profoundly mov
martha Boyle
Oct 02, 2010 martha Boyle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 14, 2008 Julia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 13, 2010 Kp rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 19, 2012 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 25, 2011 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, audible
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
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
Oct 23, 2016 Shane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Being a colonial, I picked this book up out of curiosity as it was supposed to be about Raj Orphans, that curious breed of British children born in the colonies, who blended in easily with their tropical environment before being yanked rudely back to the cold and damp mother country for the sake of their education by equally cold and distant parents.

The legacy bestowed on the Raj Orphan is a mixture of loneliness, secrets, formality and the lack of passion. All this is embodied in the protagonis
Jack London
Jun 15, 2011 Jack London rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I am limited to recommend only one book, I urge you to read these two books. Jane Gardem writes prose that begins gently, invitingly, leading you to the next page and the next, never permitting you to notice that you have been drawn in to her story because all the while you read a part of your mind is asking whether ‘that could have been me….’
Old Filth has almost nothing to do with filth but, rather, is the life revisited of a British attorney who Failed in London, Tried Hong Kong. Sir Edwar
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
Nov 08, 2009 Zoran rated it it was ok
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
Dec 11, 2008 Martha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 28, 2012 Teresa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 27, 2010 Mike rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As soon as I finished this book, I went back to Amazon to try to figure out why I read it. Yep, 33 5 star reviews and 3 4's and nothing else. When I was half way through it, a new Carl Hiaasen book landed on my desk, and I was sorely tempted to jump ship (you know, life is too short...). But then I thought about all those 5 star reviews, and the glowing quotes on the back of the book, and I thought, well maybe it gets better, I'll just race through the rest. Sadly, it didn't get any better, alth ...more
Nov 11, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 17, 2009 Trish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, asia, british
One of the best uses of flashback that I can remember. Immensely wise, this is the bittersweet story of an old man's life. Gradually Gardam reveals the successes and failures of Eddie Feathers, his astonishing luck and balance amid life's rough seas. We come to respect his judgement, appreciate his wit, and thank him for his humanity. We love him for forgiving the infidelities of his wife, and for his embrace of his arch nemesis. We miss him at the end. One of the great characters of British lit ...more
Sep 10, 2011 Cheryl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Aug 21, 2011 S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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Eddie Feathers relationship with Ingoldby family 3 49 Jan 19, 2015 05:03AM  
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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.” 17 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.” 3 likes
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