Old Filth & The Man in the Wooden Hat

August 6, 2010

I bought, and read, these two books as a pair, giving the first to my wife as a Christmas gift and the second three months later as a birthday present. It would be months before I finally read one myself and a year (?) before I got to the second.

They were definitely worth the wait. What wonderful stories. Like Japanese watercolors. Economical, spare, yet still uncompromisingly beautiful and satisfying. I want to replay the lives of Eddie and Betty over and over, squeezing more and more out of them. But that isn’t possible, and I wonder: don’t we all have our secrets, the ones we want to keep and the ones we keep because no one else ever thought to ask?

I’ll be looking for more of Jane Gardam before I go to the beach next week.

Here are two brief sections from The Man in the Wooden Hat, the sequel to Old Filth. The first quote appears very close to the beginning:

“Feathers [Filth] would deserve his success. He was a thoroughly good, nice man, diligent and clever. He had grown up lonely, loved only by servants in Malaya. He had become an orphan of the Raj, fostered (disastrously) in Wales. He had been moved to a boarding school, had lost friends in the Battle of Britain, one of whom meant more to him than any family and whom he never spoke about. Sent back to the East as an evacuee, he had met Ross on board a leaky boat and lost him again. Eddie returned to England penniless and sick and, after a dismal time learning Law at Oxford, had been sitting underemployed in a back corridor of ice-cold Dickensian Chambers in London’s Inn (the Temple having been bombed to rubble) when he was suddenly swept to glory by the reappearance of Ross, now a solicitor carrying with him oriental briefs galore, a sack of faery gold.”

And the second quote appears near the end when Filth is forced to confront his long-time rival in law and love, and now his unwanted, but needed, neighbor, Terry Veneering:

He answered the next peal on the bell and they confronted each other. Filth’s magnificent face dropped open at the jaw like a cartoon and Veneering remembered that he hadn’t shaved. Not yesterday either. Feathers, expecting Achilles, saw a little old man with a couple of strands of yellow-grey hair across his pate, bent over with arthritis. Veneering, expecting the glory of Agamemnon, saw a lanky skeleton that might just have been dragged dripping from the seafull fathom five and those were certainly not pearls that were his eyes.
“Oh, good morning, Filth,” said Veneering.
“Just called to say Happy Christmas,” said Edward Feathers, crossing Veneering’s un-hollied threshold.

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One Response to “Old Filth & The Man in the Wooden Hat”

  1. […] Gardam, author of Old Filth and other books, has an uncanny ability to burrow inside the skins of her characters and find words […]

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