Jane Gardam's Old Filth
was the best novel I read this year. It's the story of Sir Edward Feathers, one of those impeccably dressed and imperturbable icons of Englishness. Following a career as a lawyer and a judge in Hong Kong, he has retired to Dorset, where, after his wife dies, his senility takes him on tours of his unhappy past. Feathers was a "Raj orphan," the unwanted son of a colonial governor in Malaya, abandoned to schools back in Britain. The novel is an indictment of a culture so indifferent to children that it institutionalized their abuse. It also shows how someone betrayed by everyone he loved nonetheless grows into a good, even great, man. But what I found most moving about this very sad book is that Feathers achieves his personal resolution only by means of the dementia unraveling his idea of himself—as it frees his repressed childhood memories by muddling past and present. Gardam is justly famous in Britain, having published 20 books and won heaps of awards. I hope that the critical acclaim Old Filth has already received over here will make her better known in the United States.