Thursday, June 25, 2009

Past Imperfect

Quest. Julian Fellowes’ second novel, Imperfect Past, presents an ensemble of characters as they were in the late 1960s and as they are today. This was the “class of 1968,” a segment of the upper class in England who were part of a cultural transformation (free sex and plenty of drugs and rebellion from past values) but still rooted in tradition and bound to the will of their parents. Damian Baxter was a striver in 1968 and broke his way into higher society for a brief time until he was cast aside. He became wildly successful in business and lost all contact with the acquaintances of his youth. After he receives an anonymous letter that he might have fathered a child forty years earlier, he contacts the first person narrator of Imperfect Past, a person whom Damian used to gain access to society and then spurned with great drama. Although he hated Damian, the narrator meets with him, learns of Damian’s imminent death, and agrees to try to find out if Damian has an heir. That quest defines the action for the novel. Fellowes proceeds at a ponderous pace to introduce one potential mother of Damian’s heir after another, placing the action both in 1968 and the present. Fellowes is at his writing best when he presents vivid scenes of the stuffy or wild behavior in the past and the present. Some episodes led me to laugh, others were deeply sad. Character development remains weak throughout Imperfect Past; I found it a stretch to empathize with any of Fellowes’ characters. While the vagaries of who loved whom was somewhat understandable, and often led to sadness, the motivation of characters and their behavior was often so disconnected from the personalities Fellowes created, the individuals seemed unreal. If one can overlook the weakness of character development, the pleasure of the vivid scenes in Imperfect Past along with the interest in finding out how the quest turns out contribute to a lot of reading pleasure in this novel. The meandering pace might be just the right selection for relaxing summer reading.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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