In the novel Faith Fox, Jane Gardam, a well regarded British writer, demonstrates a thorough understanding of the many strands that make up today’s Britain. There are ragged remnants of the upper classes and people of middle age who consider themselves middle class, most of them eccentric and all quite different one from another. There are as well a professional or two, a religious fanatic, several worker bees and a handful of exiled Tibetans. All play an important part in finding a home for a motherless infant. That baby, Faith Fox, too young to talk, lies at the center of all 312 pages.
The opening line plunges you right into the story: “It was terrible when Holly Fox died. Terrible. Just awful.” and then backtracks for a long history of Holly, the baby’s mother.
Jane Gardam seems to like unpredictable turns and twists in her plot. Holly’s doting mother doesn’t rush to her granddaughter’s side, Faith’s father takes one look at his daughter and passes her on to his brother. The question of who will finally raise Faith stays up in the air for a long time.
But it’s hard not to get sucked into a story with an ancient beauty who’s lost most of her memory but can still beguile a man, a dyslexic boy with a great sense of humor and the mysterious Jocasta who can bewitch a man into behaving abominably.
Though Gardam has won many honors for her writing– among them The Whitbread Award and the Katharine Mansfield Prize for her short stories–she is not well known in the United States. Her trilogy with the intriguing title, Old Filth (Failed in London Try Hong Kong) is on my list of things to check out soon. Her newest book, The Stories of Jane Gardam, should be definitely worth a look.