1 Apr 2011

Review: "Past Imperfect" - Reliving the past

Julian Fellowes, the author of "Past Imperfect", first came to my attention years ago when I spotted his book "Snobs" at the library. A cool title - and fitting - and really cool cover as well meant that I had to read it. Now I own not only a copy of "Snobs" but also of Fellowes' second novel "Past Imperfect".

"Past Imperfect" is all about the imperfect past and about how one person's memories of what happened is not necessarily the same memory that his close friends had. What you experienced is not what people around you experienced. Thought-provoking and interesting. The narrator is a moderately succesful author who has never found love but has carved out a good life. His present is very much influenced by his past, especially about what happened in his late teenage years and early twenties. In the sixties he was part of a set of aristocrats and high-profile teenagers where the girls were debutantes and the boys provided good, appropriate dancing partners and possibles future spouses. He was on the outskirts of the inner circle and by chance he introduced his Cambridge friend Damian Baxter to this circle by the start of the season and suddenly Damian is everywhere. Damian ends up being a shaping force and they fall out, something big happens, something dramatic.
Many years later, Damian calls the narrator to his deathbed asking him to revisit the past. Damian maybe has a son or daughter, an heir to his vast empire and he wants the narrator to go back to the women that Damian had affairs with an investigate. Immerse himself into the past and see if he can find out if Damian has fathered a child. One of the women the narrator has to face is Serena, the love of his life, the girl for whom he would die and who never returned his feelings. The journey is a long one and a painful one for the narrator but for the reader it is a journey through time.

Going back to the sixties, flown there by the words of Fellowes, was a great experience. I imagined it better than ever before and his characters are full and come to life. Dagmar, the meek princess. Serena, the goddess. Damian, the interloper. They seem to real and the narrator - though flawed and full of pride - is lovable none the less. And that is one of the reasons why I can read this book over and over again. It is a great escape into another time and it is entertaining and well-written. A pretty perfect piece of fiction about a reality that once was.

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