The Man in the Wooden Hat

Written by Jane Gardam
Review by Doug Kemp

This is a companion novel to Old Filth, published in 2005. As I had not read the first book, this may explain why the overall tenor of the story is difficult to grasp – rather like hearing a conversation between two friends about someone you don’t know, and thus failing to understand much of what is said, or indeed omitted. The plot centres on Edward Feathers QC and his wife Elizabeth/Betty. They marry in Hong Kong in the late 1940s, and the somewhat jumpy narrative covers their early married lives and old age. As they are unconventional folk, it is an unusual marriage. At times, it all seems rather farcical, rather like a slightly sobered-up Tom Sharpe novel. However, there are hidden depths as the emotions of the two main characters, Betty in particular, are slowly uncovered – Elizabeth is seduced by Feathers’ great barrister rival, the philanderer Terry Veneering immediately after she agrees to marry Edward, and for the rest of her life she loves Veneering from afar whilst stubbornly sticking to her marriage promises to Edward.

There are three clunky and obvious historical errors which somehow dispersed the integrity of the contract between the author and reader to enter and be absorbed into the fictional world of Edward and Elizabeth Feathers. A mildly entertaining book, but not one that fully engaged me.