“The Man in the Wooden Hat” by Jane Gardam

A companion book to Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat returns to the characters of Edward Feathers, nicknamed Filth because of his success abroad (it’s an acronym for Failed in London Try Hong Kong) and his soon-to-be wife Elisabeth, or Betty.

Told mostly from Betty’s point of view, the book often veers into different storytelling styles, such as that of a play script, or into omniscient awareness. All this is handled with such authorial facility by Gardam, though, that it’s not intrusive, but impressive and entertaining.

Old Filth was mostly Edward’s story, and this one is largely Betty’s.

“Yes, I will,” the girl was saying in the shabby hotel in the back street, and street music playing against the racket of the mah-jong players on every open stone balcony. The overhead fan was limp and fly-spotted. On the beds were 1920s scarlet satin counterpanes with ugly yellow flowers done in stem stitch. They must have survived the war. Old wooden shutters clattered. There was the smell of the rotting lilies heaped in a yard below. Betty was alone, her friend Lizzie out somewhere, thank goodness. Betty would have hated not to be alone when she read Edward’s letter. What lovely handwriting. Rather a shame he’d used his Chambers writing paper. She wondered how many rough drafts he’d made first. Transcripts. He was wedded to transcripts. This was meant to be kept.

And she would. She’d keep it for ever. Their grandchildren would leave it the to a museum as a memento of the jolly old dead.

Eddie Feathers? Crikey! He does sound a bit quaint. (Would you consider our being married, Elisabeth?) Not exactly Romeo. More like Mr. Knightley, though Mr. Knightley had a question mark about him. Forty-ish and always off to London alone. Don’t tell me that Emma was his first. I’m wandering. I do rather wish Eddie wasn’t so perfect. But of course I’ll marry him. I can’t think of a reason not to.

She kissed the letter and put it down her shirt.

It takes many of the events from the previous book and adds dimension and further perspective on them, though it goes a bit beyond the ending of the first, which is interesting (and again, rather authorially daring), given the timeline of events.

As with Old Filth and the story collection in which he appeared, The People on Privilege Hill, I was delighted to enter this world and spend time with these rich, wonderful, deep characters again. I laughed and cried. I was both eager and reluctant to finish the book. And I look forward to reading more by Gardam. And many thanks to my friend Thalia for lending me Jane Gardam so many years ago, or I might not have read these books that I have so very much loved.

One Response to ““The Man in the Wooden Hat” by Jane Gardam”

  1. Ritalee Says:

    Hi GD,
    Just wanted to say I read Old Filth this spring and adored it — looking forward to The Man in the Wooden Hat. I want Betty’s Chinese swag. Jotted down your film suggestion of Moon.
    Happy gorgeous summer,