Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Michele Zackheim: Jane Gardam's Astonishing Fiction

“She’s not one of those writers who’s into publicity. She prefers long walks. She genuinely leads the life of the writer, an interior life.”

Penelope Hoare, Gardam’s longtime editor

Jane Gardam is eighty-one years old and still writing astonishing fiction. In an interview on British television’s Book Show, Gardam was asked if she would consider writing a sequel to her acclaimed masterpiece about Sir Edward Feathers, who is the main character in her novel Old Filth. The TV commentator said she thought that Gardam’s readership wanted more of him. “I finished him,” Gardam said. “He died at the end of the book. But I can’t get him out of my head. I keep getting visions of the old boy in the rain and getting his umbrella and being asked out to lunch on a wet day with his terrible friends. I do like him very much and thought I could have more fun with him.”

So Gardam changed her mind and decided to resurrect Sir Feathers in a book of short stories, The People on Privilege Hill, published by Europa Editions in 2008. “Drenching, soaking, relentless rain. Black cold rain for black cold winter Dorsetshire. Edward Feathers loved rain but warm rain, rain that wetted the pelts of monkeys.” One of my favorite characters was back!

Now readers will get even more of him in Gardam’s lyrical new novel, The Man in the Wooden Hat, to be released by Europa Editions in November of this year. We’re all in for a real treat. This story is told from the point of view of Sir Feathers’s wife, Betty. They fall in love after Betty has spent part of the war in a Japanese internment camp. Feathers, called “Old Filth” (Failed in London Try Hong Kong), meets her in Hong Kong and they marry. By the time the novel begins, this unforgettable couple has been married for fifty years.

Jane Gardam began her writing career late. She has said that she was a nervous mother who needed to devote all her attention to her children. However, when her youngest child started school, Gardam “flew upstairs, slammed the door, and off I went.” As far as I can ascertain, she has thirty-seven books to her credit, of which Europa Editions is now publishing its fourth.

“Europa Editions and Kent Carroll,” Gardam said, “have put new life into me and new hope into serious unsensational fiction.” Gardam and I share this view: Kent Carroll of Europa is my publisher, too. Although a small company, Europa Editions is huge in imagination, and I’m honored to share its imprint with a writer such as Jane Gardam.

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