Weidenfeld £17.99

Past Imperfect, By Julian Fellowes

If you miss the rituals of the class system, read on

There has always been a space on the bookshelves of Britain for a novel or two about class, and there have been some great ones in the last century, from P G Wodehouse's Empress of Blandings and Waugh's Brideshead Revisited to Ishiguro's Remains of the Day and Edward St Aubyn's mordant Never Mind.

These novels shine a clear light on to the powerful effects of snobbery and the titanic scale of the class system in England in the last century. They share faultless attention to detail, making each of them a classic, important both as a work of fiction and a reference to a phase of social history that will pass largely unmourned.

There is, however, someone who will forever regret the demise of the class system. Julian Fellowes' novel is testimony to the gilded era of the Season. This bonkbuster sized novel is drenched in bitter sorrow that the world has moved on, and there is almost no one left on earth who cares how an earl's married daughter should be addressed.

Embedded in the detailed descriptions of how the upper classes lived 40 years ago is a slimline plot. Damian Baxter, old, rich and lonely, is dying. Summoning an old enemy (once his closest friend) he concocts a Recherche du Temps Perdu mission among the debs he once slept with to find a child he may have fathered. His final act will be a coup de foudre for the family of this child, but Baxter plans to cushion the blow by leaving his fortune to his only offspring.

There are five ex-debs with children of the right age and the hapless narrator finds them one by one. What he discovers is that their lives now highlight the ways the world has changed, and they all seem to have a soft spot for Baxter. This is gruelling as he nurses a resentment against the man himself, the cause of which is revealed only at the end.

Luckily for him, and surprisingly to the reader, the debs are all very happy to talk openly about their sex lives almost 40 years earlier, and the plot thins and changes shape as we reach the dénouement. Our nameless sleuth's own grudge against Baxter involves his unrequited love for the blue-blooded beauty Serena Gresham – that's Lady Serena Gresham until her marriage – and there is a lot of swooning and languishing over her that is reminiscent of Charles Ryder's obsession with the Flyte family in Brideshead Revisited. Novels begin to cross-pollinate as the book progresses. There are moments from Donna Tartt's The Secret History in a wild dinner scene, and shades of Pride and Prejudice when the narrator finds himself at Lady Serena's ancestral seat for a musical recital.

This is a book for a hot winter beach, an escape from life as we know it. Fellowes does us a huge favour in chronicling the world of class-bound aristocrats and their arcane snobbery. (The narrator is keen to inform Baxter that he has his own white tie and does not need to hire one.) But in revealing their priorities, he gives us much to be grateful for in our own society now.

Past Imperfect will now take its place on the nation's bookshelves, but the order of things must be observed. It belongs a shelf or two down from the Class classics.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living