Past Imperfect

Past Imperfect - Julian Fellowes Julian Fellowes' "Past Imperfect" is like a trip back in time... into a world that was before my time... a world beyond my scope and country (English aristocracy)... and yet, it seems somehow so familiar and nostalgic. So bittersweet, as trips back into our memories often are.Fellowes is obviously a contemporary of his unnamed Narrator. One could argue there's a distinct air of the auto-biographical about the book. Yet Fellowes' sharp wit and acerbic takes on English society - now and then - are ever present in a way that puts him "above" his Narrator. Is it the voice of experience, looking back? Judge for yourself. Except that while the Narrator is looking back twice -- into the past and then telling a story about the present and the past that is already in his (the Narrator's) past. And only in the second reliving -- only in the telling of that story, does the Narrator have any sense of what has already happened... any sense of context. Which is how and why Fellowes is so removed and so "above" the Narrator, whatever experiences they might actually share.When the Narrator tells us in the 2nd chapter that he has "never been a good judge of character", and that his "impressions at first meeting are almost invariably wrong", it sets up the Reader for the story that follows. Because the story is undoubtably from the point-of-view of the Narrator. How does that color the Reader's experience of the story and its events? IMO, this genius story device that Fellowes employs is the only possible way to tell this story... it's the only possible way for the twists and turns and the unveiling of the "truth" to occur and not only keep the Reader's interest, but move the story along. But it also gives the Narrator an "out". He can claim complete innocence as to what happened on that Fateful Night - he can hold onto his own pain and pride throughout the telling of the story, because he never thought to ask other questions or to see past the subtext playing out right in front of him.Not to say that the story would be unbearingly dull told another way, but it would certainly lose something without it. The Reader wouldn't have much reason to "listen" to the Narrator's inner dialogue, especially as he compares and contrasts the past to the present... the way things were in "his day" to how they are now. Without that comparison and contrast, the Reader of Today (and especially those outside England) wouldn't have much chance of understanding or even caring about a story about past debutantes and their erstwhile suitors. It's necessary to see the events first through the POV of the Narrator.Lucy's comment around page 50 of the book, "I have a feeling that until tonight you thought you were Damian's patron, when we must both suspect you will be lucky to find yourself his chronicler by the time the Season is done" is so very telling. After reading that, the title of the book takes on another dimension of meaning.I was truly amazed to get to the very last page of the book without EVER hearing the name of the Narrator even once. In all that dialogue, not one time was the Narrator ever called by name. Is that the way we remember things? I don't think so... doesn't everyone long to have his or her name lovingly spoken? At the very least, I'd expected to hear the Narrator's name in connection with his "love scene" with Serena; if he wanted to hear or remember his name spoken by anyone, it would have been her. Somehow it seems as if we should all shout "Bravo!" that it doesn't occur to the reader until after the book is done that we still don't know the name of the Narrator!------------RANDOM THOUGHTSThe number of French phrases is annoying... as if his readers know these phrases or know French like the back of our hands. Everything else he explains in great detail, except these darned French phrases. What's the point? To prove that the Narrator is still part of his class, and that we, the readers, are not? ANNOYING!And, only after reading this book, do I see the horrid result of over-using commas - LOL! I'm afraid that I must take a closer look at my own works after reading this book. I was ready to throw the book across the room for all the bloody commas!The stories the Narrator relates from his memory are usually quite funny, tinged with his envy of Damian. But the brownie story at Terry's ball? LOL! I was hoping that we'd find out who slipped the "extra" substance in, but we only have speculation. Was it Terry? Did she have Phillip's help?I suppose it's always sad to see friends we haven't seen in so long. Until we do, our memories of them as bright and brilliant are firmly entrenched. It's sad to see that so many of his "friends" ended up with lives so different from what they expected or thought. How much of this is to be blamed on the "times"? Didn't the girls make their own choices of husbands? I was probably the most surprised at Lucy's story, and how she'd changed; it made me wonder if there's an age where one simply gives up trying to look good? Or is that just an outward sign of resigning one's self to the life that one chose?Joanna's story, though... to me, it was sadder than any other story. I wish I could say that it wasn't true to who she was, but it is. And it's just sad.-------------In the end, I suppose the Narrator finds his perspective. He now knows the truth behind the Fateful Night, and why he might have been such a target. And he's able to admit his own responsibility -- mostly, that he allowed what happened to prevent him from keeping up with his friends. That somehow, he must have believed what Damian said - enough to banish himself.It seems as if there's a glimmer of hope - something in the Narrator that wasn't before. And yet... there are still so many questions, probably questions that aren't supposed to be answered, except in the reader's mind. And that bugs me. It's a pet peeve of mine, actually, when I don't quite know what I'm to feel or think about a book when I've finished it. Perhaps it's too much like real life, and I've just been encased in a wonderful, dreamy "other world" of a story, and I don't want to have to be reminded of any truths in it.What about the Narrator and Serena? Are we to believe that the Narrator is truly satisfied with that one night with her? And why did Serena do that - in her own home, with her husband asleep not far away? The Narrator accepted her "gift" unquestioning, thankful for being able to finally fulfill his fantasy - thinking, in his own mind, that Damian is not part of anything that happened. But is that true? Too many nagging questions to me about why Serena would choose to sleep with him then. And with the Narrator as the Executor, he'll be working with her son (and Damian's) to distribute the money, etc. Are we to infer anything from that about a future relationship? Or are they all still so "caught" in their roles? And what about Andrew? Surely he has some doubts, some feelings, some thoughts on why his son would be given such a gift from Damian? Sure, the Narrator made sure that the others received gifts, too - even Mary. And while the Narrator continues to tell us that Andrew is stupid, I don't think he is that stupid. Which leads me to believe that his son isn't, either, and that the truth will come out, whether Serena wants it to or not. And then what?I just don't like to be left hanging that way, with too many possible questions about what's next. Fellowes is a master of that with his writing for movies and the BBC, but even those stories eventually have an end. And I don't see any upcoming books on his roster, so I guess I'll have to be satisfied with this book, as is.Which is why I rated it as 3 stars, and not 4 stars. Missish of me, I know, but, there it is!