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Old Filth, composed and wealthy, initially appears to have had a soft life. As Gardam explores his past, the reader sees instead a painful childhood that teaches him toughness, a life of hard luck and tragedy that reveals a surprisingly complex and fascinating character, and a grown man struggling to understand his own identity. The author weaves in and out of time and space and changes perspectives, a style that is both riveting and calls for a deft narrator.
Graeme Malcolm and his posh British accent bring Old Filth to life, complete with his occasional stammer. A prolific and versatile narrator, Malcolm has performed everything from children’s books (Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux) to a John Lennon biography. He shifts easily among locations and perspectives, and captures Old Filth’s bewilderment, as a person who never quite fits in his place or time, with poignancy and humor.
Jane Gardam, a venerated author who has won the Whitbread Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, completely captures a world gone by, when men still changed their shirts before dinner and England was an empire. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s life as a “Raj Orphan” — a British citizen born in the Empire, raised by surrogate parents, then torn from his loved ones to be schooled in England — Gardam explores themes of love, loss, home, and family with crisp yet moving prose. The more emotional scenes are told without heavy-handed sentimentality and are all the more effective and haunting for it.
Old Filth is a must-listen for Anglophiles, listeners who enjoy memorable characters, and a perfect choice for book clubs. (Check out a companion book, The Man in the Wooden Hat, also performed by Malcolm, that tells Filth’s wife’s story.) Jane Gardam and Graeme Malcolm combine their talents for an exquisite listen. —Julie MacDonald
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Michele Kellett on 05-08-11
A Great Read, matched by a Great Reader
This beautifully written, elliptically told story is matched by a narrator of great skill and discretion -- rather like Filth himself, a lawyer who became rich by disappearing into his work, whose colleagues, finding him unknowable, assume there's nothing to know. There is, it turns out, a lot to know about Edward Feathers, all of it dramatic, human-scaled and utterly satisfying. Gardam tells his story with delicacy, wit and empathy for both Filth and the reader. (Filth experiences a torturous childhood, a topic I personally find almost unendurable in a book. Gardam covers it intelligently, without sensation or prurience). Especially wonderful are the secondary characters, drawn with almost Dickensian verve and particularity. ALL the characters are surprising and sharply drawn.
27 of 27 people found this review helpful
By John S. on 05-24-11
A rare five-star review
I had put this one off as everywhere I turned folks raved about the book. Finally, I decided to see for myself what all the hype was about. I was a truly cynical listener as the story started; now I want to rave about it, too! The characters, setting, plotting ... it all works beautifully. Terrific narration made the experience even better.
16 of 16 people found this review helpful