Tag: James Gardau

Old Filth by James Gardau

September 21st, 2013 — 5:58pm

Old Filth by James Gardaucover-old-filth-1This novel is the story of the life and death of Sir Edward Feathers, subject of the British Empire. He happened to be a barrister who went on to be a judge. The origin of his name is Failed In London Try Hong Kong. Although this moniker stuck with him and may have been hurtful although that was never mentioned. He was far from a failure. In fact he is an example of what the human spirit can accomplish no matter what kind of early childhood cards are dealt to you. But it is also a tale of the scars of early childhood.

Old Filth started off life by losing his mother 3 days after he was born outside of England. His father arranged for the wet nurse and her young daughter to take him in in their house. It was the teen age Malaysian girl who took care of him for his first five years and it seemed that he had no other parental figure. He was then sent to England to be raised by a foster family whom he felt never loved or cared for him. He did have a relationship with two young cousins who also were involved in this extended foster family. Those children who came from the far-flung Empire were known as Raj Orphans. His father a World War I veteran and an alcoholic, paid for his schools although he didn’t visit him. As an older teen he felt at home with a school buddy’s family on holidays. When World War II broke out, although he was almost of college age, his father arranged for him to be sent to Singapore because of concern about the German bombings in the same manner as younger children were being evacuated from Europe. That turned out to be an ill fated boat trip and although he had passed his entrance exams for Oxford, he enlisted in the army. He was assigned to a remote part of England to guard Queen Mary and amazingly developed a somewhat friendly relationship with her. Post war he pursued his education and then a successful legal career in Hong Kong where he even becomes a prominent judge

He was married to Betty for many years, but did not have any children. We ultimately learn that the marriage may not have been what he thought it was, as it turns out that she had an affair with a man who became a neighbor later in his life. What shines through this tale is that despite his great success and even a seemingly happy marriage (despite the few indiscretions by his wife), was a deep feeling of emptiness and frequently feelings of rejection. Much of the book focuses on his loneliness after his wife dies in their old age. The sadness of his reflections suggests that he always felt something was missing in his life. Could it be that he didn’t have the love of parental figures when he really needed it?

While I found the numerous transitions back and forth to different stages in his life quite disruptive and distracting, it did allow for the reader to examine and understand his youth and middle years while being with him and seeing his life from his vantage point as an older man. I do admit for me at times these were tedious journeys.

This book is dealing with memories and the significance of past experiences. In this regard, the author reminds us how a single incident can stay with one for a lifetime even if that memory is a distorted one. This situation was described in just a few pages of one important event in Filth’s life. This dates back to his preteen years where he and his cousins were with the foster mother whom they despised because of the way she treated them. They even spoke among themselves how they would like to kill her. Then in an incident at the top of a large staircase, the young Filth, struggling with her about something or other, pushes the foster mother and she falls down the stars leading to her death. In his old age, he wishes to confess this deed to a Priest in the presence of one his cousins, who had been there with him at the time of the incident. He relates how the foster mother was found dead at the foot of the stairs after he pushed her. The cousin mentions that actually the woman died the next day at the hospital and was found to have end stage cancer of which she would have died shortly anyway. Filth is stunned and says, “I never knew that!” How would his feeling have been different about himself and his life had he known he did not cause her death? How would all his trials and tribulations been different if he had been loved and listened to throughout his years?

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