Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes
If you were to receive an invitation to visit someone who, for the past forty years, you had considered an enemy, and furthermore, had brought about your social downfall, what would you do? So begins our narrator’s story in Past Imperfect.
I have to start off with a confession, I have always been intrigued by the closed-door world of British high society. From high teas, to debs delights, I love reading and watching movies that focus on the odd intricacies of a world that is open to the privileged few. So there is little wonder that Julian Fellowes’s first book Snobs, drew my attention, the name says it all. It was only after I picked it up that I realized that I already knew the author from his television and movie roles. He was a joy to watch as the snobbish but kind Lord Kilwillie in the BBC series Monarch of the Glen, and he showed off his impressive writing skills in the screenplay for the award-winning movie Gosford Park. In Snobs Fellowes follows the story of a social climber in 1990s London, her successes and travails. He created a witty and humorous tale that kept me wanting more.
In his second novel, Past Imperfect, Fellowes stays firmly in the world he first introduced us to in Snobs. Our unnamed narrator and Damian Baxter, friends from Cambridge, shared a London “Season” together in 1968. Forty years later, the narrator loathes Damian Baxter and would gladly forget they were ever friends. When an invitation arrives from his old enemy, he is intrigued. With an extraordinary request from a dying man to find his child, our narrator is drawn back to swinging sixties, and a year he has tried to put behind him for four decades. As the narrator seeks out six women who may or may not be the mother of Damian’s child, he is forced to reexamine both Damian’s relationships with these women, and his own relationship with Damian. Through his journey, we learn of the intricacies of the upper echelons of British society (and those considered beneath them), as they try to keep up the old traditions in a world that was firmly facing forward.
The narrator tells us of the failings of the upper classes, but his tone is apologetic, that of a parent telling of a favored child’s failings. This can perhaps be due to the fact that Fellowes himself came from a privileged background, and based many of the narrators characteristics on his own, for while he tries to write the narrator as an objective forward-thinking observer, many times he comes off as a little condescending to those who were not born and bred. His own nostalgia for days gone by, cause him to occasionally stop the narrative to tell us again, of the many differences between today’s world and the world he grew up in, this can get tiresome.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and wonderful language that Fellowes uses, his characters, even the narrator himself, are far from likable and sometimes one-dimensional. Snobbish, prejudiced, fortune hunters and fame seekers, no one comes away unscathed.
That said, Fellowes talent for weaving tales means that in spite of its failings, I did enjoy the story, and was pleased with its conclusion.
Is it a keeper? No. Is it an interesting and entertaining read? Very much so.
For as surreal as it may seem to most, in Fellowes’ own words “The fact remains that, strange as it seems now, this world really did exist.”
This book was Purchased by Noa.