Summary and book reviews of The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam

The Man in the Wooden Hat

By Jane Gardam

The Man in the Wooden Hat
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2009,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2009,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

The New York Times called Sir Edward Feathers one of the most memorable characters in modern literature. A lyrical novel that recalls his fully lived life, Old Filth has been acclaimed as Jane Gardam’s masterpiece, a book where life and art merge. And now that beautiful, haunting novel has been joined by a companion that also bursts with humor and wisdom: The Man in the Wooden Hat.

Old Filth was Eddie’s story. The Man in the Wooden Hat is the history of his marriage told from the perspective of his wife, Betty, a character as vivid and enchanting as Filth himself.

They met in Hong Kong after the war. Betty had spent the duration in a Japanese internment camp. Filth was already a successful barrister, handsome, fast becoming rich, in need of a wife but unaccustomed to romance. A perfect English couple of the late 1940s.

As a portrait of a marriage, with all the bittersweet secrets and surprising fulfillment of the 50-year union of two remarkable people, the novel is a triumph. The Man in the Wooden Hat is fiction of a very high order from a great novelist working at the pinnacle of her considerable power. It will be read and loved and recommended by all the many thousands of readers who found its predecessor, Old Filth, so compelling and so thoroughly satisfying.

Chapter 3

And so, a few hours later, into the sea dropped the great red yo-yo sun and darkness painted out the waters of the bay at Aberdeen Harbour. Then lights began to show, first the pricking lights under the ramparts they stood on, then more nebulous lights from boats knocking together where the fishermen lived in houses on stilts, then the lights of moving boats fanning white on black across the bay and then across far away bays and coastlines of the archipelago; lights of ferries, coloured lights of invisible villages and way over to the south dim lights staining the darkness of Hong Kong itself.

Edward Feathers and Betty Macintosh stood side by side, looking out and a drum began to beat. Voices rose in a screech, like a sun-set chorus of raucous birds. Cantonese and half a dozen dialects. The crashing of pots and pans, clattering pandemonium. Blue smoke rose up from the boats to the terrace of the hotel and there was a blasting smell of hot fish. Behind the couple standing ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

In this companion piece to the compelling and defiantly funny Old Filth, Gardam adds layers of nuance to the lives and relationships of Edward, known as Eddie, and Elizabeth (Betty) Feathers. While Old Filth is narrated primarily from Eddie's point of view, The Man in the Wooden Hat focuses more on Elizabeth, and cannily asks whether we can ever truly know anyone, even ourselves.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New Yorker

Like Gardam’s other novels, this work has satiric charm, but, just as the lovers never crack one another’s “unassailable privacy,” Gardam never lets the reader meaningfully trespass on their inner lives.

The Washington Post

As to Gardam's pair of novels, what the old song says about love and marriage must be said about them: You can't have one without the other. They are a set, his and hers. To my taste, they are absolutely wonderful, and I would find it impossible to choose one over the other.

NPR - Maureen Corrigan

Together, Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat compose a vivid diptych of a marriage. You don't have to read Old Filth first, though you'll enjoy the plot surprises in this latest novel more if you do.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gardam's prose is witty and precise, and the hole in the middle of the story is obviously to be filled by reading (or rereading) Old Filth.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review... Gardam speaks volumes about her heroine, and she offers a quiet elegy for an entire generation. Funny, intelligent and immensely moving.

Library Journal

An elegant portrait of an old-world marriage. Highly recommended.

The Times (UK)

This book works perfectly in its own right, but if you haven’t already read Old Filth, do so first: like their two protagonists, they are greater than the sum of their parts.

The Telegraph (UK)

What a lot Jane Gardam knows about love and its accommodations; the rich contradictory play of desire and loyalty, the sudden storms of feeling that assail the edifice of a marriage. And how elegantly and intelligently and kindly she writes about the instinctive, tendril-like gropings of one human heart towards another.

The Spectator (UK)

Delicious is a word that keeps coming to mind as one reads Jane Gardam’s new novel. Delicious and poignant.

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Beyond the Book

The Stanley Internment Camp
Although Elizabeth does not talk about her experience in a Japanese internment camp during World War II except to mention that her parents died there, its memory definitely colors her feelings about Hong Kong. While we do not know for sure, it seems likely that the camp she was interned in was the Stanley Civilian Camp - a non-segregated camp in the grounds of Stanley Prison and the neighboring secondary school, St Stephen's College, on the southern end of Hong Kong's main island. The camp was home to about 2500-2800 civilian men, women and children from January 1942 to August 1945 when the Japanese surrendered.

According to Kevin Blackburn in his book Forgotten Captives in Japanese ...

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