I recognize that a few have already spoken of these two books on this blog, and I want to begin by saying how much I have enjoyed reading those posts and seeing how these two books have impacted others as they have myself. This post is by no means a replacement or substitute for those prior posts, nor is it meant as an improvement upon them. I hope to add to the conversation surrounding these two wonderful, moving works.
Old Filth and The Man In the Wooden Hat left me speechless, struck quite literally to my core. Alone, they are portraits of two individuals captured in the most poignant and integral moments of their lives. Together, they show the duality of even the most intimate experiences. My heart broke for her passion even as it struggled to understand his distance. Filth's devotion to his wife, somewhat free of desire as it may be, is touching. How can one love when they have never truly been shown how? His seems a life pushed by hard work, luck, circumstance and stability. Hers, an altogether different beast. Her life is marked by her decisions- some that free and others that bind. Her heartbreak and loss- and subsequent attempts to reclaim her sense of self- took The Man In the Wooden Hat to another level for me. Combined with certain themes in The Queen of the Tambourine that echo those in that work, it leaves one to wonder how much of Ms. Gardam's work is drawn from inspiration in her own life or that of one close to her.
Filth himself proves curmudgeonly and disarming. His faults and flaws, explained as the books progresses, come to be seen not only as hindrances but somehow as unique tragedies in and of themselves. Solitude in many proved his solace and his shelter. She, the lady who would always somehow need more than Filth could give her could never be satisfied with a life such as that. I am not an apologist for Filth. She deserved more, certainly and in her own way found more as well. How much fault one can ascribe to Filth is up for debate. When one's capacity for love and affection are hindered in so many crucial ways, how much is left to give to another?
To write Old Filth alone would have been a masterpiece few authors could replicate. To attempt the daunting task of both a companion piece as well as a re-telling of events readers already know (or think they do) seems like either the utmost of arrogance or the most eloquent stroke of genius. Luckily, the the latter won out. Ms. Gardam manages to capture the truth resting in the individuality of us all and the motivations that drive us forward and keep us in place. I cared so deeply for both characters and wish for more insight into their lives. When she suffered, I was next to her. When he blindly pushed forward in his career, I was with him even as part of me stayed with her. When he rushed home to her, when he mourns, I was there. I woke up in that tree house with her.
If you have not taken the opportunity to visit this love pair of books, I urge you to do so. They compliment each other so extremely well that reading just one would leave the reader without the whole story, even if they felt that each work does an admirable job showing us each character. I have never read such an honest and intimate portrayal of marriage and commitment or loss and discovery.