The ‘Old Filth’ Trilogy

Image courtesy of http://amazon.co.uk

I wish I could remember who it was recommended Jane Gardam. I think I read about it in one of my many newsletters about books. Whoever it was – bravo! I discovered a new author – always great – and a superb one at that.

The Old Filth trilogy is about a barrister named Sir Edward Feathers. He has an extremely difficult childhood which includes being sent to a foster home where he has all sorts of mishaps and adventures and this provides the reader with an understanding of his future motivations and behaviours. Despite a difficult start in life he goes on to train in the law and is incredibly successful in his profession.

Sir Edward Feathers was a ‘Raj Orphan.’ His father worked in Singapore and he was sent away. He always believed he would be reunited with his father and this separation affects his life deeply.

The book is narrated in the 3rd person and begins when Edward is retired and living in Dorset with his wife Betty. She and another character called Edward Veneering are the other two main characters in the book and they are the focus of books two and three. The story then jumps back and forwards in time but this is done seamlessly.

The prose is rich and detailed as we follow Edward from childhood to London and then Hong Kong which is where he gets his nickname ‘Old Filth. Filth is an acronym that stands for ‘Failed in London try Hong Kong.’

Jane Gardam has won numerous literary awards and I can fully understand why. This novel is so rich in evocative gorgeous geographical detail of all the various countries Sir Edward Feathers travels to or lives in. The dialogue is witty and sharp and the novel is full of wit and compassion while describing some of the darkest days of colonial and post-colonial Britain and the Far East.

I was immediately drawn into the story and the characters.

I highly recommend this trilogy. I look forward to reading more Jane Gardam. If you have read any of her books I would love to know which ones you enjoyed. Thanks!

Middlemarch by George Eliot

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This was the first book on my 2017 ‘list of betterment’ (see previous post in Nov 2016, on ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Millar) or as I call it, ‘My Book/Reading Gym.’

I set myself a target to read 50 pages a day.  Some days I read more, on only a few occasions I read slightly less.  As I reached 600+ pages I galloped through the final 200 pages.

Readers have strong views on Middlemarch.  They rhapsodize about it, or detest it.  Not much middle ground in terms of the opinions I have heard. Well – I loved it.  I wouldn’t say it was the best book I have ever read or that it changed my life, but I definitely loved it.

George Eliot writes as omniscient narrator, and this along with the Victorian references and wordiness grated with me initially, until the brilliant characterization swept me along, and I became lost in the world of Middlemarch society.

The novel is set in 1830 and covers a wide range of the societal and political issues of the day, from medicine to parliamentary reform and education. I won’t begin to try and summarize the plot.  If you want to know what it’s about, google it my friends!  800 pages is 300 pages too long for a summary.

Instead I am going to tell you why I loved this novel.  The manner in which Eliot draws together all the different lives of the characters, and weaves the storylines between them, and makes the connections appear understated yet important, is nothing short of genius.   The characters’ lives weave, mesh and become entangled in the subtlest but most daring ways.   Two characters who may have not even met, suddenly turn out to be the cause of each other’s potential downfall.  The moral dilemma between Bulstrode, Dr Lydgate and the rest of Middlemarch society had me gripped and transfixed.

The two main characters of Dorothea and Dr Lydgate held the most interest for me.   Many reviewers have portrayed Dorothea as a saint and a specimen of perfection.  For me (as much as I did try to imagine how hard it must have been for women in the 1830s) she was an irritating sycophant.  She married the much older Mr Causaubon because he was so highly knowledgeable in her eyes, and so much worthier than herself.  Blimey, whip yourself a bit harder why don’t you.  She had him on such a high pedestal, it was inevitable there was only one way for him to go, which he duly did.  Down down down.     She then falls in love with Will Ladislaw, but cannot admit it to herself, or have anything to do with him until he proves himself worthy.  I know she had it tough, but I just yearned for her to show some feistiness, or some rebellion at some point.  Her self-pity and self-flagellation just made me want to puke.  Mind you, her sister Celia was worse, particularly when she became a mother to her darling Arthur.

Even though Rosamond (who married Dr Lydgate) was vain, self-centred and selfish, at least she had a bit of back bone and knew what she wanted.

My two favourite characters were probably Dr Lydgate and Mary Garth.  Humble, dependable, sure of themselves and their values. Poor Dr Lydgate.  My heart truly broke for him.  Marrying the selfish Rosamond, and struggling both financially and with his lifelong ambition. He needed a wife like Dorothea to fulfill all his needs, while he got on with his work.

Middlemarch is a book I imagine you could read five or six times and still not fully appreciate.  There is so much to it, my mind boggles just thinking about it.  It is a book I hope to read again in a few years.    To be honest I don’t think I got the full juice out of it on a first reading.  I also appreciated and enjoyed the exquisite writing, and marked many passages in the book.  One of my favourites regarded the nature of Mr Casaubon and his inability to enjoy anything in life.  A truly remarkable piece of writing:

“It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy; to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold…but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.”  (Chapter 29 Page 280 Penguin Classics edition)

Eliot’s wisdom is rare, her genius plentiful.  It may take some effort and some time to read this masterpiece, but certain things are worth the effort, and in my opinion, reading Middlemarch is one of them.

If you have read it, I would love to hear your opinions.  Who was your favourite character?  Do you agree with me re Dorothea, or do you think she is the true heroine of the novel? Pray do tell (sorry…went all Victorian there for a moment.)

Next up at The Reading Gym is:  ‘Les Jeux sont Faits’ by Sartre.   I will be reading it in French, but if you fancy reading along, you can get a translation entitled ‘The Chips are Down.’  What a hideous translation, but never mind!  It’s not that easy to get, so I fear I may be on my own with this one!  The next book after that is ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen.   I can’t wait for that one!

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoyed your stay at The Book Club Cafe!

 

 

 

 

The Dressmaker of Dachau by Mary Chamberlain

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Link to the book on Amazon

This book came highly recommended by a friend.  Thank you Michelle!

I love nothing more than when a book transports me to another world and I can’t wait to get back to it. It doesn’t happen to me that often, but this book had me absorbed from start to finish.

Ada Vaughan lives in Threed Street in 1930s London.  She gets a job working for Mrs B as a dressmaker, where she learns her trade.  But Ada is no ordinary worker.  She has a real talent for couture and a flair for fashion.  One evening she attracts the attention of a man named Stanislaus at a hotel, and the two begin courting.  When he asks Ada to go to Paris with him, she is thrilled.  Despite warning of the outbreak of War, Ada sneaks off to Paris with him.  What happens next is more than your worst nightmare.  Ada finds herself alone and abandoned in a city at war.

What I loved about this novel were the rich descriptions of both time and place.  I felt like I was there, and I got a real sense of Ada’s fear and panic.   The writing is lyrical and full of ambiance.    I defy you to not get caught up in this wonderful story of one woman’s perilous struggle to survive through World War II.

Also I will say that the ending surprised me, which always adds to a great read!

Read it, you won’t be disappointed.  4*.

My next book is The Camomile Lawn by Mary Wesley.  Review coming soon!