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Past Imperfect [Paperback]

Julian Fellowes
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 30 2009
Damian Baxter is very, very rich - and he's dying. He lives alone in a big house in Surrey, looked after by a chauffeur, butler, cook and housemaid. He has but one concern: who should inherit his fortune...PAST IMPERFECT is the story of a quest. Damian Barker wishes to know if he has a living heir. By the time he married in his late thirties he was sterile (the result of adult mumps), but what about before that unfortunate illness? He was not a virgin. Had he sired a child? A letter from a girlfriend from these times suggests he did. But the letter is anonymous. Damian contacts someone he knew from their days at university. He gives him a list of girls he slept with and sets him a task: find his heir...

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Past Imperfect + Snobs + Gosford Park
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Review

'Guaranteed page turners don't come much better than Past Imperfect...witty, intelligent and elegantly written' SUNDAY HERALD 'This delightful comedy of manners from a master of social satire is perceptive, acute and ultimately very poignant.' GOOD BOOK GUIDE

About the Author

Julian Fellowes is a writer, actor, director, producer and TV presenter. His acting credits include the role of Lord Kilwillie in MONARCH OF THE GLEN, as well as film roles in SHADOWLANDS, DAMAGE and TOMORROW NEVER DIES. His TV writing credits include the Emmy winning LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY and the BAFTA nominated THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, which he also produced. His first cinema screenplay, GOSFORD PARK, won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. He also wrote the screenplay for the recent version of VANITY FAIR and THE YOUNG VICTORIA. His debut as a director, SEPARATE LIES, was released to acclaim in 2006. Julian is married to Emma, nee Kitchener, and they have one son, Peregrine.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best novels I've read in years Feb. 28 2010
Format:Paperback
What a gem! I didn't want this novel to end. Fellowes is a brilliant writer with a wicked sense of humour. His novel Snobs is just as clever.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great writing... May 29 2013
By TG TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Julian's book is for someone who enjoys a witty, intelligent, humorous story written in both the seventies and the twenties. The main character is in his late fifties and tells the story of his youth, during the time when aristocratic families and their traditions still existed. Its is very well written and engaging although this type of book may not interest everyone. Still, a great, interesting read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting writer March 26 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Julian Fellows writes interesting stories of the upper class in England and their problems in life in making it in the upper class society. This is about an era that has nearly passed in Britain.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read July 26 2014
By AJK
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I hope the author writes many more books. His book Snobs is an excellent read. Both books are page turners, hard to put down.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  162 reviews
86 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Enjoyable Jan. 23 2010
By Mae - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I picked up this book because of back-cover blurbs mentioning P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, and Oscar Wilde, not realizing until later that the blurbs were in praise of Snobs, Fellowes's first book. I don't know about Snobs, but Past Imperfect was nothing like Wodehouse or Wilde, not much like Waugh, and maybe a very little bit like Mitford.

I enjoyed it so much I looked the author up here and was surprised to find relatively negative reviews. The author does sometimes come across as snobbish and frequently expresses strong opinions and tastes, but I liked that it was written from a distinctive point of view, whether or not I agreed with his various judgements. It was also pleasant to read a book so careful in its language (in the sense of grammar, punctuation, usage, and general style).

The five star review, however, is for its living up to all the good-book cliches: I couldn't put it down, I didn't want to stop reading, etc. Characters are introduced gradually; most are multifaceted enough that the reader's opinions of them change throughout the book. The writing is skillful enough that one barely notices that the narrator's name is never given, and it is similarly unobtrusive when a character is referred to simply as, for example, so-and-so's husband for a while, and then when the name is given, one learns it is actually an already-introduced character, so there are small surprises and revelations throughout the story as well as the answer to the book's main question at the end.

I finished it today and now I want to get Snobs ASAP.
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "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" July 10 2009
By Jana L. Perskie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
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, £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 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 Perfect'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." "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 screenwriter, (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. Highly recommended!
Jana Perskie

Snobs
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A little depravity now and then is relished by the wisest men March 22 2011
By Chuck Crane - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This novel further confirmed my belief that John Calvin must have been thinking of the English when he made "Total Depravity" the first point of Calvinism. Not to say the worse of it. A little depravity now and then is relished by the wisest men.

Damian Baxter, a dying, friendless self-made billionaire who crashed the London debutante scene in 1968 when a poor young man engages a former enemy, now a moderately successful writer, to determine if any of his debutante conquests bore him a child who can inherit his fortune. During his quest, the writer interweaves amusing flashbacks to the declining debutante scene that followed the abolition of "Presentment" by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958 with the subsequent histories of the women on Damian's list, all the while reflecting, with genuine insight and humor, on what the English have lost and gained as a society in the intervening years. For many readers, these reflections will be the most memorable passages in the book.

I would compare Past Imperfect favorably to A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. Though much less ambitious than Powell's 12-novel cycle, and sometimes weaker in characterization, it nearly matches Powell's humor, and if the characters are less vividly drawn, they are always believable. Being an American who resides in the west, I found the botoxed and face-lifted LA infomercial host with imaginary food allergies, in particular, to be spot on. I meet her every day.

The characters are all upper-middle or upper class, so if you think that squalor and degradation are the only fit subjects for literature, don't read this book. Go read Erskine Caldwell instead. Or check out "The Celebrated Tractor Driver" and other Marxist gems.

I am somewhat perplexed by some of the negative reviews here that seek to portray Fellowes as an elitist snob. I wonder if these reviewers actually read the book. If so, they must have missed passages like this one:

"The rude, like the polite, may be found at every level of society, but there is a particular kind of rudeness, when it rests on empty snobbery, on an assumption of superiority made by people who have nothing superior about them, who have nothing about them at all, in fact, that is unique to the upper classes and very hard to swallow. Old Lady Belton was a classic example, a walking mass of bogus values, a hollow gourd, a cause for revolution...There is much that makes me nostalgic for the England of my youth, much that I think has been lost to our detriment, but sometimes one must recognize where it was wrong and why it had to change."
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Became of Our Youth and Dreams? June 27 2010
By Julia A. Andrews - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Julian Fellowes did not let me down after being enthralled with his previous book "Snobs". The narrator has a deathbed request made by an ex-friend, a man from his youthful past, their rift never repaired. Not only is the quarrel longstanding, should the narrator decide to take on the deathbed assignment it will mean confronting many of his own unresolved issues from that same summer involving the same people.

Julian Fellowes always writes witty, smart repartee and this book is no exception. Compared to his previous "Snobs" this book has a prevalent undercurrent of regret, inner turmoil and lost chances that was not present in "Snobs". However, this is no means should turn the potential reader away. This is a fascinating account of the social mores of 1968 that are on the cusp of radical change. It will be the last, true "Debutante Season". The debs know this will be their best chance to snare a rich (and hopefully titled) high society husband in their short rounds of balls, galas, breakfasts in all the "right places". Pressure builds as the debs entire future depends upon impressing and integrating themselves with not only the right man, but his family.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Brit fiction.

Enjoy the read!
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quaint practices of a time past - a great read Aug. 2 2009
By Reader from Singapore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The subject of Julian Fellowes' "Past Imperfect" may not seem interesting or terribly relevant to readers of our time, other than hardened snobs or Brits with a gauche fascination for the quaint practices of the upper classes in the late 60s and early 70s. These were times when debutante balls were ritually held each year to herald the coming out of the children of the privileged classes to high society, where they would hopefully meet and find their life partners from compatible backgrounds. All this may sound rather feudal but the fact that this social circle co-existed not so many decades ago with the generation of the great unwashed - think pop star Marianne Faithfull, the Rolling Stones and their drug fueled escapades - testify to there being in reality two Englands, one looking to the future for change and the other facing backwards and clinging desperately to the failing efficacy of secret codes that governed their conduct in life.

Fellowes who wrote the screenplay for Robert Altman's classic "Gosford Park" is in familiar territory and clearly in his element. His indictment of the foolish pretensions of the upper classes is nothing less than devastating - Damien Baxter may be a loathsome adventurer, a ruthless social climber bent on muscling his way into a circle he doesn't belong to, somebody who would betray his friend (in this case our curiously unnamed narrator) without a thought when it suited him but it is he who finally becomes disgustingly rich and successful with a vast fortune to leave behind to his sprog...provided he or she can be identified. The search for his biological heir becomes the motor that would drive the plot of the novel. What happens to the huge cast of Damien's social betters ? They become - as our narrator would discover - sad and failed parodies of their past. Isn't life ironic ? Damien the anti-hero whom we should despise gets to cock a snook at the snobs.

Fellowes writes like a dream. His characters are cut outs from late period dramas but aren't remotely stereotypical. There are shades of Daisy Buchanan (heroine of "The Great Gatsby") in Lady Serena Gresham - one of Damien's many female victims and our narrator's one true love - her lack of moral courage, a quality the privileged classes never needed - damned her among the callous and morally bankrupt. Fellowes too understands suspense like a mystery writer, leaving the unveiling of the infamous "Estoril incident" to the last act which while hardly novel or surprising still packs a decent punch. A little overlong perhaps but Fellowes' gorgeous prose, cunning humour and splendid characters make "Past Imperfect" a highly entertaining read.
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