Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Man in the Wooden Hat | Jane Gardam

This is the second book in the Old Filth trilogy.

Gardam has done a very clever thing with these three books: Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat and Last Friends.

The main story is set in the first book: Sir Edward Feathers Old Filth (failed in London try Hong Kong) was a successful lawyer in Hong Kong, deeply integrated into the expat community but also connected to Hong Kong. He returns to the bar in London to end his career and retire.
we meet him as a widower living in quiet isolation in Dorset. He wants to write and peacefully live out his last years.
What he does a lot of is reminisce, going over events in his life which have formed and scarred him. He had a difficult, emotionally cold childhood, an education in pre-war England and launching his career in Hong Kong as an ambitious young man.
He meets and marries Betty, who understands his emotional immaturity but learns to love and 'manage' him. They have a long marriage, although there are hints that there may be infidelities along the way.
Feathers also has a nemesis ,Terry Veneering, who comes to Hong Kong as a flashy, loud and assertive young lawyer and more or less shadows Feathers and Betty throughout their lives.

In the second book, the story is told from Betty's perspective. We know the story, we don't have new action as such, but there are new anecdotes and 'slice of life' segments that fill out what we know. I really enjoyed this as Betty has quite a different perspective on their life.

And finally in the third book, we see the whole story from Veneering's perspective. It's a wonderful conclusion to the trilogy.

Gardam is a very skilled author and what could be boring and repetitive is actually a captivating look at the lives of three people emerging from one era into another, caught between the exotic East and the old school Western cultures that form them.

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