Old Filth by Jane Gardam

Old Filth took my breath away, pun intended. At the end of what others perceive as a nothing-ever-happens life, Old Filth finally makes a stink. All his life, he’s been handed from one person to the next, and, one by one, they leave him. But when his wife dies, he decides to leave, to DO something. He goes visiting all over England and has a heart attack. Then, in the hospital, his confession comes out, a noxious tale he’s been holding in since age 8. Freed of its smothering fumes, he makes one final journey. “[T]he East hit him full in the face.” I put the book down at this point, about a paragraph from the end, and had to catch my own breath.  I’d been repressed along with Old Filth the book long, following his story at a polite distance, just as he held himself aloof from his own past.  It is nothing less than redemption when he unburdens himself to a priest.
Jane Gardam crafts Old Filth, Sir Edward Feathers, also, Fevvers, or Eddie, in fits and starts, flitting from past to present as Old Filth himself experiences life. “Memory and desire” is his refrain. He wants to make sense of what’s happened to him but it seems an impossible task. “Only God could do it,” he remarks to himself. Jane Gardam acts as God, capturing his memoire for him, for us, when he feels himself unable. Yet, she manages to stay out of the way. It isn’t God (or author) who emerges but Feathers, in all his woe-be-gone glory. Jane Gardam’s unadorned style fits Old Filth’s understated manner; she serves him well. She starts, “He was spectacularly clean.” And he remains so, even after dirtying himself in sin; he is wiped clean in his telling, and we are all given a fresh start, a new breath.

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Author: marilivtollefson

I teach and play violin when not reading and reviewing books. Thanks to indie authors for opening my world and sharing theirs! Find my reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo, Midwest Book Review and BookPage, among others.

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