Past Imperfect

Written by Julian Fellowes

Past Imperfect


I came late to the world of Downton Abbey.  It was such a fascinating and engaging story.  I loved everything about it: the costumes, the characters, the subtlety.  It felt like an imagined world, but it had the richness of truth.

If you weren’t aware (I wasn’t), Julian Fellows was the creator and writer of Downton Abbey.  In Past Imperfect, he creates a new version of the magic in Downton.  It is similar in some ways – the glimpse into a microcosm of society during the moment when it changed.  It is also very different – this group seems to be aware of what is happening even if they don’t admit it to themselves.  The situation is enriched by an unreliable narrator who presents himself so convincingly that it took me half the book to recognize that he was suspect.

The story is that the narrator is on a mission of mercy and must track people down from his past.  The state of 1990’s British society is thus interwoven with the last gasp of British aristocratic society in the 1960’s.  The story occasionally wanders into predictable territory (I mean, we KNOW the first person visited won’t have the answer or there’s not story).  I found many of the characters to border on predictable and one-dimensional.  And by the halfway point of the novel, the narrator could get preachy and condescending.

But the genius of Fellowes is that as soon as I found myself getting annoyed, or considered that the narrative was dragging, I was pulled right back into the story.  It wasn’t one of those books that I read compulsively and can’t put down, but I also found myself thinking, “Just one more page before I really need to put it down and…”  This book had a flow and pacing about it that never wavered.  And yet, there was something in the cadence of it that gave it tension and strain in all the right places.

This book felt glittery and hopeful and wistful.  It was a love letter to a different time that lamented the best of what was lost while acknowledging how much was also gained.  If you are interested in British society and aristocracy, the swinging 60’s, or gentle (and sometimes harsh) character studies, this book is for you.