PAST IMPERFECT by Julian Fellowes
“It’s 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.”
Review by Jana L. Perskie (SEP 23, 2009)
In 1968 the London Season was on the wane. At one time it referred to the annual period when it was customary for members of the a social elite to hold posh debutante balls, dinner parties various soirees, large charity events, etc.. This period could begin any time after Christmas, depending upon the success of the hunting season in the country. It also coincided with the sitting of Parliament. London became a virtual marriage market during the Season. There were only a few short months for eligible debutantes to be officially presented to the queen, attend approximately 50 balls, 60 parties, 30 dinners and 25 breakfasts in order to, hopefully, find themselves a wealthy, titled husband. And a young lady was not considered approved for the marriage market until she was presented at court – her curtsy to the queen had to be impeccable if she were to succeed.
However, in 1968, the world was in a period of flux – politically and socially. This was the end of one era and the beginning of another. Although many of the traditions and customs remain, the official organization of the Season no longer exists. The presentation of debutantes at court was abolished by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958. And while the London Season continues – young debs still have to be married, as do eligible bachelors – the scale of events has been cut-back significantly.
Boutique clothes and micro mini-skirts from Carnaby Street were “in,” as were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in 1968. Charles, Prince of Wales, was probably dating his Camilla – although both were single at the time. And the unnamed narrator of Past Imperfect, fresh out of Cambridge, was enjoying himself, along with his circle of friends. Prominent amongst these friends was the handsome, debonair Damian Baxter. Although not a member of the nobility, nor rich, this young man had the wherewithal and poise to act as one of the privileged, and to be accepted by the younger set, although not by their parents.
Damian was not after inherited wealth or a noble wife, though his peers would never have noticed this. He did not covet the life of the elite – he wanted to “witness it – to experience it, but only as a traveler from another land. “He didn’t want to live in the past where he had no position. He wanted to live in the future where he could be anything he wished.”
Now, some forty years later, Damian is as rich as Midas, with a large, elegant home in Surrey where he lives alone. He is dying. After receiving an unsigned letter from a former lover telling him he had sired a child out of wedlock, back in the good old days, he finds himself desperate to find his natural heir. Obviously he wants to bequeath him/her his considerable fortune, Â£500 million, but he also has a need to know that his line will continue, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket. Damian had married in his 30s, but by that time was he was sterile due to an unfortunate bout of adult mumps. During the promiscuous period of the 1968-69 Seasons, he had affairs with various young women. One of them could possibly be the mother of his child.
Damian calls upon our narrator to assist him in finding his offspring and the prospective mother. What is so remarkable about the request is that Damian and the narrator had a major falling out in 1970, and lost touch with either other’s life. The narrator actually hates his terminally ill former friend. Past Imperfect‘s mysteries include: Does Damien have an heir? Why does the narrator hate Damian? And why does he accept Damian’s request for help in his quest?
In fulfilling the dying man’s request, the narrator must return to his own past and, inevitably, compare it with his present existence. He has been forced to remember what he wanted from life at nineteen…before he knew what life was about. Now, thanks to Damien, “he must bear witness to what happened to all those silly, over made-up girls, the vain self-important young men – and to what happened to himself. Â “He has been rendered discontented when it is nearly too late to fix, but soon enough to have many years ahead to live with that discontent.”
There is a list of five women – five former debs whom Damien had sex with back then – all of whom have children of the right age. As the narrator finds them and explores their past and present lives, more of the storyline, from the 1960s to the 21st century, are revealed. And these women, also former friends of the narrator, are more than happy to discuss their pasts with him. Their stories represent different aspects of British upper class society.
Author and Academy Award winning screenwriterÂ (Gosford Park), Julian Fellowes writes with wit, as he describes the lives of the upper classes as they were having to start to come to terms with the changing times. The well written narrative is full of astute observations on human nature. The novel is frequently funny, and often poignant. The characters are wonderful. Obviously, I enjoyed “Past Imperfect” immensely.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 67 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||St. Martin’s Press (September 1, 2009)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perskie|
|AMAZON PAGE:||Past Imperfect|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Wikipedia on Julian Fellowes|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||If you like this, try:
Galahad at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse
- The Curious Adventures of the Abandoned Toys (October 2008)