The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam

The Man in the Wooden Hat The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam

I’ve been a fan of Jane Gardam’s writing ever since I came upon her early books in the British Council Library, like God on the Rocks. I found her stories very moving and her writing very accessible and well-wrought. I still do, especially now, with her latest novel, The Man in the Wooden Hat.

She has reprised her most successful character since Faith Fox, one Edward Feathers. He first appeared as the main character in Old Filth a few years back. The novel was shortlisted for the Booker 2004 but never won. She followed it up with a book of stories, and in it was one starring Edward.

In this book Edward takes a backseat to his wife Betty. We saw her die in the earlier book. Here she lives, as this is like a prequel, like in the movies, like those Star Wars and Star Trek sagas, when the audience gets to go back in time and learn more about their favorite characters. In Hat we certainly now know much more about Betty than just a judge’s wife.

Of some of the things we learn, we might be either ambivalent about or be disappointed with her behavior towards her intended, Edward. We meet her, in the opening of her story, in Hong Kong, when she reads a message from someone. She replies affirmatively, well-nigh ecstatically. We learn she has been asked for her hand in marriage by Edward.

We do not need to know the history of Edward in this book. Some readers would already have been apprised of it from Old Filth. But for those who do not, they would get little reminders of his days growing up in the East, especially Malaya, and in the war with the Japanese. We also meet Edward’s now best friend from those days. Edward saved this little Chinese boy, Albert Gross, and gave him his watch. Later, as adults, they met again, and Gross returned the favour by finding him a legal position. From then onwards, Edward progresses successfully, in life and in his career. Gross has become Edward’s life-long friend – and protector. We see how dwarfish Gross threatens people, even Betty, if they hurt Edward in any way, even emotionally.

As for Betty, she has had a hard life growing up in China. She and her parents were interned by the Japanese, and only she came out of it almost unscathed while her parents died. But she would inherit their money, which is a lot, when she becomes 30. Young and beautiful Betty is penniless and all on her own in Hong Kong, till Edward arrives in Hong Kong.

During a party given by Edward’s employers Betty meets Terry Veneering, and it was lust at first sight. When Edward has to leave Hong Kong to settle some work business, Betty has a tryst with Veneering. This affair leaves a resounding affect on Veneering, who falls for Betty. He even asks her to leave Edward years later when Betty is happily settled down and is an old but still good-looking woman. So, the tension here is, would she leave Edward? Is she happy with him? In the last few chapters you’d get a few surprises.

Gardam’s writing style hasn’t changed much in years. However for this book, she has added a few stylistic twists. At heightened moments her characters would go into a kind of internal direct speech mode. We go into Betty’s thoughts directly. For instance, we see this often when in her last few days on earth, she is distracted, almost dazed from Edward’s point of view. She has just learnt of the death of her ex-lover’s son, Harry.

The Man in the Wooden Hat is still giving Gardam fans reading pleasure, like her earlier books.

View all my reviews >>


Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.