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The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
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The Man in the Wooden Hat (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Jane Gardam

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5132419,781 (3.98)200
Member:katiekrug
Title:The Man in the Wooden Hat
Authors:Jane Gardam (Author)
Info:Europa Editions (2009), Edition: First Publication, Paperback, 240 pages
Collections:Your library, Europa Editions
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Fiction, contemporary, British, colonialism, Europa Editions

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The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam (2009)

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The Man in the Wooden Hat is Jane Gardam's second novel involving the upright and seemingly stodgy Sir Edward Feathers. He is a lawyer and then judge known as Filth, the nickname derived from "Failed In London, Try Hong Kong". In the first novel, Old Filth, he was introduced as a lonely widower residing in western England, looking back on his days of wealth and fame in Hong Kong. This one tells the story from the perspective of his beloved wife Betty, starting with her saying yes to his proposal in a Hong Kong hotel.

Gardam is particularly good at letting us see the inner workings of outwardly convention-observing characters, as they struggle with inner yearnings versus the desire to be moral and respectable, and successful in the eyes of others. When, shortly after Filth's proposal, Betty runs into Terry Veneering, Filth's rival, she wishes the proposal had come an hour later. That attraction will have have long lasting effects for all of them.

The steamy Hong Kong and austere English countryside atmospheres are vividly portrayed, and there are revelations around every corner, including a corker at the end. Betty evolves from a clever but unworldly youngster with "unpainted, sandy toenails" to a decisive ruler of her realm. What a feat for Gardam to so engagingly tell the story from two different perspectives in two different novels. A third novel, Last Friends, will tell the story from the POV of Filth's rival Veneering. Reading high quality writing always feels good, and like the first novel, this one is cleverly conceived and affecting, as you find out more about all three protagonists. Four stars, and it may well deserve more. ( )
  jnwelch | May 25, 2015 |
Although I gave this the same rating as Old Filth it was, if anything, even more enjoyable. This was Filth's wife, Betty's story, very cleverly matching Filth's account yet managing to be quite different. I can't wait to read Filth's enemy, Veneering's story in Last Friends. And I just may want to re-read Old Filth. Gardam's style is sparing without being meagre, allowing the reader to use their imagination in many scenes that a more wordy writer would have described in long drawn out detail. A wonderful series that I can recommend highly.

My take on the title is that it is an obscure reference to a wooden statue Betty and Veneering saw in a gallery, and that had a parallel, in a way, to the hat worn by Filth's friend, Albert "Loss" (claims he can't pronounce R) who stored his playing cards (and more?) in his hat. ( )
  VivienneR | Dec 10, 2014 |
I loved this book just as much as I did Old Filth. This is mostly Betty's story, and just like Filth's, it is a bittersweet, funny, and moving story of an individual in search of herself. As a portrait of love and marriage, with all the attendant flaws and misunderstandings and missed opportunities, it is spot on and told with warmth and humor. A very wise and wonderful novel. ( )
  katiekrug | Sep 12, 2014 |
A rather curious novel about the marriage of an English barrister in Hong Kong.
  ritaer | Aug 16, 2014 |
Excellent story telling. Enjoyed this more than Old Filth. ( )
  sianpr | May 13, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
On its own, “The Man in the Wooden Hat” is funny and affecting, but read alongside “Old Filth,” it’s remarkable. Gardam has attempted to turn a story inside out without damaging the original narrative’s integrity — moving from black to white without getting stuck with gray. Little here is as it seemed in “Old Filth,” and both books are the richer for it.
 
"While "Old Filth" is principally about the man, his dark boyhood at the mercy of a distant, unfeeling father, with the wife a rather shadowy character in the background, "The Man in the Wooden Hat" fills in her side of the story, in the process revealing itself to be an astute, subtle depiction of marriage, with all its shared experiences and separate secrets."
 
What Gardam is particularly good at – and what made Old Filth so compelling – is creating for her characters façades of complete conventionality, which are then chipped away to reveal strange internal workings.
 
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"Old, forgotten far-off things
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for David
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Tells the story of the fifty-year marriage of barrister Filth and his wife Betty, which is filled with secrets and hidden desires.

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