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Boston Globe: "a novel that is both funny and moving. By book's end the title has achieved an ineffable poignancy and one feels that it could not possibly have been anything else."

Date: Oct 4 2007

Novel titles that hold sway

For the last couple of years I have been hearing from people whose opinions I respect about a novel with a title so fine that I could not wait to see it installed on my bookshelf -- as it is now -- right to the left of Stella Gibbons's admirably titled, Cold Comfort Farm. It is Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Europa, paperback, $14.95). Old Filth. Just right, its heft similar to Vile Bodies, another good one. And I am happy to say that the novel itself lives up to its title. The "filth" in question is FILTH, an acronym for Failed In London Try Hong Kong, and Old Filth is Sir Edward Feathers, a barrister, once of the Hong Kong bar, now widowed, nearing 80, and in isolated retirement in Dorset. His life, or rather its endgame, takes a momentous turn when he locks himself out of his house on Christmas Day in a snow storm and is forced to find shelter with his only neighbor. This, as it happens, is a former despised colleague from the Hong Kong years whose life has intersected with Feathers's in a quite shocking way, one which we only gradually discover. Feathers's sobriquet, the sad story behind the old man's stifled soul and outward demeanor, and his entrance into the ruthlessly changed land -- and peoplescape of today's England -- all work together to bring about a novel that is both funny and moving. By book's end the title has achieved an ineffable poignancy and one feels that it could not possibly have been anything else.

By Katherine A. Powers