Just when I think literature can’t get much better with writers, dead and alive, to read like William Trevor, Paul Bailey, J L Carr, Ronan Bennett, William Boyd, Graham Greene, Julian Barnes, Paul Bailey, Anthony Burgess et al than another one engages me and sails into the my pantheon of great authors.
I recently “celebrated” a significant birthday and I can’t say I was thrilled to realise just how old I’d become. Oh well. But I was cheered up when a package of books arrived from England, via Amazon, from my former public school Latin master John McCormick. Those of you who read my annual books lists will recognize the name.
Inside the package were three pristine paperbacks by Jane Gardam. I had previously only read one book by Gardam and that was God on the Rocks, which was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1978.
On further examination, the three books were a trilogy surrounding the life of Sir Edward Feathers, QC, known by his nickname Old Filth. (The Filth stands for Failed In London Try Hong Kong).
Hmmm, I thought, a novel about the life and times of the Raj Orphans encapsulating the glory years of the British Empire, the Second World War and the decline of Britain to today; a saga about young, bright things becoming old, dull shells. I’m not sure I’ll like this.
How wrong I was. From the first page I was hooked and I have devoured all three books in triple-quick time. I didn’t want them to end.
Old Filth is a masterpiece and the other two are close behind. Jane Gardam wrote this book in 2004 – she was about 76 then. The Man in the Wooden Hat was published in 2009 and Last Friends in 2013, when she was 85. Most novelists are written out or are producing sub-standard stuff in their eighties. Not her.
And why didn’t Old Filth win the Man Booker Prize? What? It wasn’t even nominated!
And Graham Greene didn’t win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which shows just how meaningless and silly these prizes are. And how riddled with jealousy and prejudice and resentment the so-called judges are.
Jane Gardam – I tip my wooden hat to you!