Literary Fiction (View all)
Written from the perspective of Filth's wife, Betty, this is a story which will make the reader weep for the missed opportunities, while laughing aloud for the joy and the wit. Filth (Failed In London Try Hong Kong) is a successful lawyer when he marries Elisabeth in Hong Kong soon after the War. Reserved, immaculate and courteous, Filth finds it hard to demonstrate his emotions. But Elisabeth is different - a free spirit. She was brought up in the Japanese Internment Camps, which killed both her parents, but left her with a lust for survival and an affinity with the Far East. No wonder she is attracted to Filth's hated rival at the Bar - the brash, forceful Veneering.
For those readers who adored Gardam’s marvellous novel Old Filth, this is a wonderful treat: those of you who haven’t read it must begin with that, and then go on to enjoy this one. The Man in the Wooden Hat retraces the story of Old Filth, but this time we hear the story from Sir Edward’s wife Betty’s perspective. Betty has an interesting past of her own; to outward appearances the very model of a conventional lawyer’s wife, joining her peers in Hong Kong for weekly bridge and all the correct volunteer activities, underneath she is a free spirit, whose intelligence made her a clever code-breaker at Bletchley Park, and whose unorthodox upbringing as an orphan of the Japanese internment camps has given her an decidedly bohemian outlook. Like its predecessor, the book’s light- hearted and witty style contains a great understanding of the white lies or ”accommodations”, as the back cover puts it, that can be concealed within a marriage of otherwise well matched partners. Edward’s repression, which masks deep wounds from a damaging childhood, is a point of undiscussed difference for the couple, for Betty’s unruffled exterior also masks a passionate nature which has always drawn her to her husband’s rival, the brash, but likable Terry Veneering. This is a greatly satisfying novel, and it’s a real delight to have a sequel to Old Filth; the only reason for the lesser rating is that I would like even more! I would have liked a little about Betty’s childhood, and her time in college and at Bletchley Park, but I think Gardam is perhaps going for the wise option, which is to write what you know and do it really well, and that she has most certainly achieved.
If you have read “Old Filth” by Gardam, this is a must, as it is Betty’s telling, and it’s so nice to get another look at a great story. This is a truly English tale, full to the brim with social mores and illicit affairs, which were rife in the heady post war years. Both Edward and Betty have survived the war, but at a cost know only to themselves. Set in a Hong Kong whose inhabitants are slowly beginning to resent the Colonial presence, and in an England emerging from the devastation of war, this is a wonderfully warm and witty book with Gardam’s brilliant, understated depth. I have given it 41/2 stars only because I loved Old Filth so much: this is an equally enchanting read.