Ah the good old days – “Past Imperfect” by Julian Fellowes

July 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm 1 comment

Past Imperfect” by Julian Fellowes, Published in 2008 

Yes indeed this is the same Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” and “Gosford Park” fame.  I have loved his movies and televisions shows but this was my first introduction to Fellowes as a novelist and I was not disappointed *phew*. And thanks to my friend Holly for the suggestion.

The narrator at the beginning of the book is in his mid-fifties and seems to be a somewhat successful writer living in London.  Out of nowhere, he receives a letter from his old enemy Damian Baxter requesting that he come and see him.  Both came of age amidst the posh English society in the late 60s. Significantly, Damian was the middle class interloper in their group of friends.  The two were friends until one fateful night in Portugal that, as the reader comes to find out, changed not only their friendship but also changed many of the dynamics of their social circle and their futures.

Since that time, Damian has become one of the wealthiest men in England while many of their other friends have lost their old-established wealth.  The narrator reluctantly agrees to go to meet with Damian because as he states “it is always a pleasure to hear from an old friend but at my age it is, if anything, more interesting to hear from an old enemy.”

Upon arrival at Damian’s countryside manor, the narrator finds out that Damian is dying and that years before he had received an anonymous letter from one of their former acquaintances.  The letter alludes to the fact that Damian, unbeknownst to him, has a child from one of his many affairs. Now that death is imminent, Damian wishes to leave his fortune to his offspring so he asks the narrator to find out who sent this fateful letter. The narrator agrees to help his old enemy.

Cover of "Past Imperfect"

Cover of Past Imperfect Again, somewhat reluctantly, the narrator agrees and is handed a list of all of the women Damian had slept with during that period of decadence in the late 60s.

The narrator then embarks on a quest of sorts to track down all of these women who had been a part of his, and Damian’s, social circle in an attempt to find out which had Damian’s child.  As the narrator finds all of these women it becomes clear that even though most of them came from great wealth and stature none of this has guaranteed a happy or even wealthy future. The mystery is solved eventually but not without a lot of painful reliving of the past for all of the characters.  And the narrator himself must come to terms with the fact that his life is not what he envisioned it would be when he was that young man attending debutante balls and running in high society.

Fellowes’ writing is compared to the likes of Waugh and Wodehouse but I did not find this to be the case and as usual am confused about why these types of comparisons are frequently made. Regardless, this novel is interesting for a few reasons.  What I liked the most is the examination of that bizarre world of wealth, affluence and classism.  The novel is a harsh rebuke to those in our world who come from a long line of privilege but then claim to have somehow earned it.  As the narrator points out about the fallen rich friends of his youth:

It should have been true for all of them really, had not too many succumbed to that most dangerous of modern fashions among the born-rich, the desire to prove, to themselves and everyone else, that their money is a reflected of their own brains and talent…it obviates the need to feel grateful to their forebears or obligated to respect their successful, self-made acquaintance…” 

I have found that, in the American rhetoric at least, I frequently hear about how hard our actors, politicians and other wealthy society members work.  But of course most of them are not self-made, they came from a long line of wealth, privilege and self-indulgence. Few of them will just admit that and instead complain about how hard it is to be them.  And all I can think is “Oh okay Gwenyth Paltrow I am sure that your 12 hours on the catered movie set making $7 million a picture is rough.  And you should really complain to the coal miner who works 12 hours a day year round and makes just enough to feed his family.”

Obviously the exception to all of this Paris Hilton, she really has worked hard at designing her own line of handbags.


Entry filed under: July 2012 reads. Tags: , , , .

The simple question of “why?” sometimes has the hardest answer – “We Need to Talk about Kevin” by Lionel Shriver “Where there’s life, there’s hope”- “The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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