Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Hachette, 2004)
“Astonishingly in one so old, his curly hair was not yet grey. His eyes and mind alert, he was a delightful man. He had always been thought so.”
Old Filth tells of the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a sartorially magnificent, highly esteemed retired judge. Starting with his unpromising beginnings in Malaysia, the story flashes through his wanderings and struggles as a child of the British Empire.
On the face of it Eddie “Old Filth” is an old fashioned, emotionally stunted relic, who strides about town flashing his elegant ankles in yellow silk socks. But Old Filth is not by any means a comic caricature of a posh old lawyer, or a vehicle through which to poke fun at the trappings of the British Empire and British institutions. The story unfurls to describe a life full of unexpected turns – some humorous, some decidedly sad – and reveals the frailties and losses which lurk beneath the still and polished surface of this funny old man in a manner so poignant I was on the verge of tears at some point in nearly every chapter. It was a good thing that I couldn’t put it down (and as a consequence, got through it very quickly indeed) as I read a lot on the train to work and I was in danger of getting a reputation as a cry baby on the 08:07.
*New-ish. Bit tenuous, but a new edition was published in 2013.