In deference to the weight of these two books, I've combined reviews. In retrospect, Old Filth, Jane Gardam's prize winning story of a retired barrister in the twilight of his life is the lighter tale. Filth is an acronym, "Failed in London Try Hong Kong," which harkens to the last gasps of the colonial hey-day when Edward Feathers (Old Filth) practiced law. Revered and a legend in the legal world, the book unwinds his life and tough circumstances that shaped him. He was essentially orphaned in India when his mother dies in childbirth, and his father retreats into addiction and depression. Rescued by an aunt, Feathers is eventually put into the boarding school system that evens out the disparity of circumstances to the rigors of long traditions. The story is a marvelous tour of a faded time, and his attempt to gracefully age.
On the same shelf is the short-listed for The Man Booker Prize and a National Book Award finalist, A Little Life. Lauded and well-reviewed, A Little Life is wrenching and bleak with a knowing tension that the good times certainly can't last. This story is the opposite of an old man looking back at an interesting life. It is a haunted tale of suspense wondering from chapter to chapter if the main character Jude St. Francis will survive.
After a wrenching and brutal childhood, St. Francis' story is told in conjunction with four Harvard college friends and their time from post-college to middle age. The significant buzz on the book is certainly due to the gripping writing style. Despite or because of the tension, you will push to the end.
I like reading the books in sequence. All lives follow a similar pattern of hills and valleys. And most of the time, the largest hurdle is one's own perspective.