In her novel, Old Filth, Jane Gardam tackles a little regarded aspect of British colonial history: the plight of what were called Raj orphans. These were children born in distant parts of the British Empire who were sent ‘home’ for schooling and care, often with strangers.
Edward Feathers, or Filth as he becomes known (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong), is born in Malaya, but shipped off to England at a young age to board with the unpleasant Ma Didds in Wales. The reader gets a hint early on of some terrible events here which colours Edward’s relationships with people for the rest of his life. Virtually abandoned by his family, Edward’s attempts to make a life for himself are at times poignantly sad.
Thank goodness for ‘Sir’, the headmaster who takes him under his wing, and the Ingoldby family who adopt him for holidays, but with war just around the corner, Edward’s future is up in the air again. By 1945, London is still rebuilding after the Blitz and Edward jumps at the chance to better himself in Hong Kong.
While Old Filth concerns serious matters, it is written with Gardam’s usual droll wit, brilliantly batty characters and quirky dialogue. If you haven’t read Gardam before, I suggest you start with Old Filth before tackling the rest of the Filth trilogy, The Man in the Wooden Hat and Last Friends, which fill in some gaps and provide the stories of Filth's wife Betty and his arch rival, Terry Veneering. A wonderful series from a very unique voice.
Posted by JAM
Catalogue Link: Old Filth