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Old Filth

By Jane Gardam

Don’t’ be put off by the title! This is a great read; funny and heart-breaking at the same time.

Old filth is the nickname of Edward Feathers and tells his story, from his birth in what was then Malaya, to his old age. The period covers the glory days of the British Empire, through WW2, to today and portrays beautifully this character known variously as Eddie, The Judge, Fevvers, Filth, Master of the Inner Temple, Teddy and eventually Sir Edward Feathers.

Old Filth was a lawyer whose early career did not blossom in London but when he was persuaded to move to the Far East his practice became most lucrative.

Now only the oldest QCs and Silks can remember that his nickname stood for ‘Failed in London, Try Hong Kong’.

Long ago he was a 'child of the raj' – an orphan, one of the many children send ‘Home’ from the East to be fostered and educated in England. Some of these children were as young as 4 or 5 years old. Filth’s earliest memories are of his amah, a teenage Malay girl named Ada. His mother died days after he was born and his father, District Officer of Kotakinakulu Province, ignores him completely.

When he was 5 years old ‘Auntie May’ of the Baptist Mission arrives to tear him away from Ada, the only person who loves him, and he is sent 'Home', where he and 2 young girls, cousins of his, are boarded out with strangers. This was a most unhappy time for all the children until something so terrible happened that it remains a secret throughout the rest of their lives. What exactly did happen at the farmhouse in Wales? Filth is rescued from this awful place by 'Sir' whose 'outfit' is one of the oddest schools in England.

The characters in this book are wonderful - monsters, eccentrics, blessings in disguise. The author also gives us an insight into the bizarre workings of the minds of the elderly. 

 


Reviewed by Jenny Cook