Old Filth by Jane Gardam and The Photograph by Penelope Lively

Old Filth tells the story of Sir Edward Feathers, variously known as Eddie, The Judge, Fevvers, Master of the Inner Temple and Teddy. Not a dirty old man, he is ‘spectacularly clean. You might say ostentatiously clean.’ Filth is his nickname standing for Failed In London Try Hong Kong. He was born in what was then Malaya and sent home to England as a small child of five. The story goes backwards and forwards in time telling of his childhood at boarding school, then after Oxford he became a barrister and eventually a Judge on the circuit in Hong Kong. The book starts with Old Filth aged 80 living on his own in Dorset after the death of his wife, Betty. His near neighbour is Terry Veneering, also a retired lawyer he had known and detested in Hong Kong. He and Terry end up unexpectedly spending Christmas together. I was hooked straight away and read on eagerly.

As Filth begins to look back on his life, he becomes anxious to contact old friends and relations and as he contacts these people the story of his life emerges. He relives their times together, tries to make amends and sees events in a new light. There are many surprises before Filth comes to terms with his life and widowhood. It’s a gentle book, full of humour and heartbreak.

The Photograph was the first book I read this year and I raced through it eager to find out why Kath was holding hands with a man who wasn’t her husband, Glyn. After her death, Glyn comes across a photograph inside an envelope on which Kath had written DON’T OPEN – DESTROY. It had been taken many years and on close inspection Glyn realises the man is his brother-in-law, Nick.

Glyn, a TV history researcher, infuriated by the photograph and the discovery of her involvement with Nick sets out to discover more. He becomes obsessed with his search as it becomes obvious how little he knew about Kath and her life.

I have always found Penelope Lively’s books full of interest, easily readable, peopled with believable characters and this one is one of her best. It’s about relationships, love and fidelity, grief and loss and the power of memory, all topics that for me made this book compelling reading.

Two excellent books.

6 thoughts on “Old Filth by Jane Gardam and The Photograph by Penelope Lively

  1. I simply loved both these books. Gardam and Lively are two of my very favourite authors. In the light of your previous post, have you read any of their books for children and young adults? They are both superb in those areas.


  2. I liked the Photograph a lot, and I’m looking forward to reading Old Filth one of these days — thanks for the review!


  3. Table Talk, I’ve not read any of their books for children and young adults – any recommendations?Dorothy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


  4. I haven’t read Old Filth yet either, but I absolutely loved The Photograph for all the reasons you cite.


  5. For Gardam try ‘Bilgewater’ or ‘A Long Way to Verona’ for Lively there is so much, but try ‘The Ghost of Thomas Kempe’ or ‘The Voyage of QV66’ which after last summer suddenly seemed less of a fable and more of a possibility.


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