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PostPosted: Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:35 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

I have finally finished Faith Fox, having started it towards the beginning of the year. I notice that although this thread is a haven for Jane Gardaam lovers, a few people have mentioned that they found Faith Fox weak or bland in comparison to the rest of her oeuvre. This review, by Five Owls, provides a good starting point for me to talk about it - I'm terrible at summarising and this will help me out and remind everyone of the premise:

Posted: Fri Oct 09, 2009 2:46 pm    Post subject:
I have just finished Jane Gardam’s Faith Fox and, although cool in my response at first, I increasingly warmed to the web of characters whose lives interweave around the baby, Faith Fox.  I shall try to avoid ‘spoilers’.

Born to the exuberant, much loved Holly Braithwaite (née Fox), Faith is orphaned by her mother’s death as she gives birth and is farmed out to the care of Jack, the older brother of Andrew, Faith’s father.  Jack is ordained and heads up a religious community on the North York Moors, a bleak and cold complex of buildings centred on a ruined abbey.  Although Faith is the almost symbolic centre of the story we encounter her but rarely as she is cosseted and nursed by Pema, an elderly Tibetan who, with other Tibetans, is a reluctant part of the community.

Initially, I had expected the novel to unravel around Faith’s childhood and early adulthood but the span of the book simply occupies the first year of her infancy.  The main characters’ lives spin into turmoil through the premature death of the popular Holly and the ‘marooning’ of her child in the ‘North’.  Here there is a classic North/South divide between Jack, Andrew, their parents Dolly and Toots and Alice Banks, the grim-faced ‘Missus’ who cooks (after a fashion) for the community, on the one hand and Holly’s mother, Thomasina, her friend Pammie (with her Surrey lipstick), fey Madeline and the General on the other.  The ex-hippy and Jack’s wife, the enigmatic Jocasta, and her dyslexic son Philip are too cosmopolitan to be part of this divide.

There is much delicious humour in the book, the characters become increasingly believable, a darker side emerges well through the story, and I found the novel’s denouement moving and convincing.

After my initial lukewarmness I strongly commend Faith Fox.  Do read to the end!

Having taken about 6 weeks for me to read, this is the longest I've ever spent reading such a novel of average length. This is partly down to my own circumstances and busyness, but is also because the book is very slow burning. After 100 pages, I wasn't sure whether I was interested enough to keep reading. After two hundred pages I didn't want to stop reading because I'd inadvertently grown attached to the characters, and there were moments of poignancy which touched me more than anything I've read in a long time. If the novel is 'about' anything, I'd argue it's about the unusual ties and divides between family members, even where affection or similitude are lacking. The title character is conspicuous by her absence throughout much of the novel, which dramatises the play of influences around her life which she is detached from.

I want to briefly provide a counter to some of the talk about the characters in this book. From memory, I think earlier in the thread people commented that they seemed women-writerish, stereotypical with a hint of the quirky thrown in. What challenged this for me was how the characters formed narratives about themselves and how they were, and how their own self-narratives and levels of self-awareness changed throughout the novel. Jack's analysis of his 'love' for Jocasta, for instance, or Toots and Dolly's changing perceptions of their sons. Even though the characters weren't necessarily sympathetic, I could recognise their hopes, fears and anxieties. They are worried by who they are and aware of the influences that defined them, and I think that something that makes the struggle for Faith's identity so poignant, Jocasta's lack of family identity so sad, and Philip such an interesting character.

Something else I felt was very striking was how visual the novel is. I can still see Toot's and Dolly's nursing chair or picture and Missus at the kitchen sink.

Anyway, while it might not be the most fantastic book I've ever read, I think it's worth a read.

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Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can only agree with Klara who on another thread called it the Filth/Veneering trilogy rather than just the Old Filth trilogy – it is such a more descriptive title. After all, The Man in the Wooden Hat is about Filth’s wife Elisabeth, sometimes known as Betty, while Last Friends is the back story of Terry Veneering. I think that with the short story The People on Privilege Hill where Betty and Terry are prominent Gardam has predetermined her intention to make the two following novels individual portraits of those two characters. Taken as a whole, the trilogy once again shows the Gardam flair for understatement and humour combined with an acute observation for bringing out the absurdities of life. Anyone new to the novels and story should approach them as one complete novel and read them one after another.

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