“Pretty easy life. Nothing seems to have happened to him.”

Brown Baggers met on May 18 to discuss Old Filth, a novel by Jane Gardam. The novel is named for its main character, and Filth becomes his nickname after he attains great success as a lawyer in Asia (it stands for Failed In London, Try Hong Kong). The novel is told as his 81-year-old self looking back on his life and coming to terms with abandonment and abuse in his childhood.
After his mother dies in childbirth, his detached father sends him to be raised in the local Malay village, where Filth thrives. However, in the family tradition, Filth is torn from this comfortable set up and sent off to a foster family in Wales. This situation scars him for life and his reminisces throughout the books always lead back to what happened to him there.
Being left was Filth’s main story. Throughout the book we learn of his repeated losses of friends, other relatives, and love interests. As a character, Filth is a survivor. Although his methods of surviving led some readers to consider him an appalling man. We discussed whether there was a likable character in this book. As they had all experienced trauma early in their lives they developed personality quirks which made them detached and hard to warm to as readers.
Compounding the never-ending sense of loss in Filth’s life was WWII, which began when he was a young teen. This only added to his losses and deprivations. While his early experiences led to his ability to be a good litigator, it also wracked him with a lifelong sense of guilt of past wrongs and all legal decisions he meted out as judge.
After the loss of his wife, and his only friend, Filth decides to revisit family members and locations from his past to come to a better understanding of what happened and make peace with it.
Mentions:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Links:
The Man in the Wooden Hat(#2) and Last Friends(#3) in this trilogy

Audio interview with the author from BBC4

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