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Review: Past Imperfect, by Julian Fellowes

From Amazon:
“Damian Baxter was a friend of mine at Cambridge. We met around the time when I was doing the Season at the end of the Sixties. I introduced him to some of the girls. They took him up, and we ran about together in London for a while….”
Nearly forty years later, the narrator hates Damian Baxter and would gladly forget their disastrous last encounter. But if it is pleasant to hear from an old friend, it is more interesting to hear from an old enemy, and so he accepts an invitation from the rich and dying Damian, who begs him to track down the past girlfriend whose anonymous letter claimed he had fathered a child during that ruinous debutante season.
The search takes the narrator back to the extraordinary world of swinging London, where aristocratic parents schemed to find suitable matches for their daughters while someone was putting hash in the brownies at a ball at Madame Tussaud’s. It was a time when everything seemed to be changing—and it was, but not always quite as expected.

I sort-of enjoyed this book, which I know is a bit lukewarm. Although our unnamed narrator seems obsessively preoccupied with the way things were back then as opposed to how they are now. I found the narrator intriguing: he has a singular lack of confidence, but at the same time he’s extremely witty and sarcastic.

His other characters don’t come off so well, though; I never really understood what made Damian so appealing to the other characters, especially the women. The narrator’s dislike for Damian was a bit odd, too; for most of the book, he keeps saying over and over that he doesn’t like him, but the narrator’s attitude to Damian in the ‘60s is quite lukewarm. I think we’re supposed to believe that the narrator’s dislike occurred during that fateful evening in Portugal, but I couldn’t really see it; what happened is something you’d be a bit embarrassed by, not hate someone over.

Neither do you really get a sense of Damian’s hate towards the elite upper crust; although I can understand that his upbringing has something to do with it, his hate isn’t palpable until the very end of the book. It just didn’t seem believable to me. The women involved in the story are somewhat interesting; but why did they all have to end up with depressing lives, married to bores? Couldn’t at least one, besides Terry the American heiress, have a happy ending?

But I did think this book was extremely funny—there are some lines in there that I was howling over, and I defy you not to laugh at Terry’s disastrous party at Madame Tussaud’s. I definitely enjoyed Snobs much more than this book, though.


S. Krishna said…
Hmm...I have this one to read, but I might put it off for awhile. Thanks for the honest review.
Alyce said…
This isn't one that I had heard of before. I don't think it's one I would have gravitated towards anyway, but your review re-enforces my initial gut feeling.

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