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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 December 2009
This is a treat for those who have read `Old Filth', Jane Gardam's previous book about Sir Edward Feathers and his wife Betty (see my Amazon review), but also for those who have not read it (and will surely want to read it next), for, though the knowledge of its predecessor will add an additional layer of enjoyment, this book does not assume such knowledge. And anyway, significant though it is, there is only a modicum of overlap between the two novels (and there are even two small discrepancies between the events described).

The focus of `Old Filth' was on Sir Edward; here it is on Betty: we learn much, much more about her than in the first book. Edward we see as the kind of person he already was when they married - a workaholic and unable to give much emotionally; but we would have to go to the earlier novel to see what had made him become like that. The current book begins with their engagement and more or less ends where the earlier book more or less began.

There are more disconcerting elements in the second book than in the first. The dwarf Albert Ross, who is devoted to Edward and knows him better than anyone else does, seems more spooky. His hat is an important part of him, and the title of the book suggests the great influence Jane Gardam attributes to him (though why the hat of the title is wooden we discover in a single image near the end of the book.) She even has him survive Edward, when in the previous book Edward outlived him - one of the two discrepancies noted above. (The other relates to a watch). Betty's behaviour when she has just been engaged (the oddest engagement, to be followed by the oddest wedding) is more upsetting and indeed hard to explain. There is in the first half of the book a note of hysteria. It is hard to believe that this could ever be a successful marriage.

And yet it was - though at a price that will be fully apparent only in the last few pages. Betty does have to go through trials - and very movingly they are described - but her relationship with Edward is not the cause of them.

We move back and forth between a retreat in the depth of the Dorset countryside and the throbbing life of Hong Kong. Again the writing is both funny and touching.

It is, I think, an even better book than `Old Filth' - and I had given five stars to that!
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on 7 September 2009
I read this before I read 'Old Filth', and although this novel unquestionably stands on its own, it consistently gave me the feeling that it was making assumptions about its characters and perhaps unintentionally assuming that they would already be familiar from the earlier book.

One of the positives to be derived from this is that it doesn't hang about, doesn't linger self-indulgently. And one of the negatives to be derived from that in turn is a rather sketchy attitude to some characters and events. Terry Veneering, for instance, the oik rival lawyer to Eddie Feathers, the male protagonist, seemed to me more of a plot device than a real character. And I wasn't at all sure whether Albert Ross (the "Chinese dwarf") was supposed to have some kind of fantastical, mystical element to him, which in a way undermined for me the reality. That sketchiness seemed to me to extend to the narrative technique, which slips into using letters or screenplay, for instance, in ways that might sometimes seem just a bit lazily arbitrary. But they do contribute to the story being told clearly.

Now that I have read "Old Filth", quite a bit becomes quite a lot clearer, so I think that's my recommendation: do read them both but in that order. Maybe they should be combined somehow into one book, with the parallel narratives merged.

One small niggle: it's always annoying and unsettling to come upon factual errors; they always make you wonder whether there aren't perhaps more that you haven't spotted and don't happen to recognise. I don't think it was possible in the time of Attlee's government (i.e. 1951 at the latest) to fly from London to Hong Kong in fourteen hours with just one stopover, and it certainly wouldn't have been with British Airways which wasn't formed until 1974.
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on 18 November 2011
Most reviewers seem to have a natural bent towards their subjects, so non-positive reviews on Amazon are not too popular. So my view is that Jane Gardam's work has lost it's subtlety and incisiveness over the years. I found "The man in the wooden hat" over-contrived, too full of wildly improbable "coincidences", and with an over "arch" pattern of apparently predicting the future. I preferred her novels written in the 1970s and 1980s
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VINE VOICEon 27 August 2011
This is another wonderful story about the life of fictional judge Edward Feathers and his wife Betty. The first book is titled 'Old Filth' (Filth meaning Failed in London, Try Hong Kong) and the second "The Man in the Wooden Hat". The latter looks at the marriage of Filth and Betty from her point of view and fills in some of the blanks that are hinted at but not expounded upon in the first book.

It is another wonderfully captivating read from Jane Gardam. The characters and places are vividly drawn and the unexpressed emotion in the book is palpable. In her very easy, flowing style we see how Betty and Edward fall in love despite an inauspicious, unpromising start to their marriage. From the outside, Betty and Edward look like a fairly boring, conservative couple, sensible from the start, untroubled by passionate emotions or flights of fancy. But we see how this is really a facade, brilliantly maintained, and how, in spite of deceptions and hidden longings, the two of them manage to hold on to a marriage that is genuine and loving for both of them.

The reason I'm giving this book four rather than five stars is that I was not at all keen on the character of Albert Ross. I'm not sure if I'm not reading him the right way, but for me, he is introduced as someone who will be pivotal to the story and he appears on a number of occasions. I don't, however, think he was necessary at all to the narrative. He was completely unbelievable as a character and I think he could be removed from the story with no damage done! I'm sure other readers will disagree and say that I'm missing the point of him as the conscience or the subconscious of the characters, but for me, he's too contrived to be satisfying!

Otherwise, though, highly recommended!
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on 27 September 2009
Sarah Fellingham's review is interesting. Because my memory is so bad and because I was only half listening to Radio 4's serialisation of The Man in the Wooden Hat, I failed for a while to realise that this is a different novel to Old Filth. I thought some features were different and that, somehow, the Old Filth (which I read four years ago) had had its title changed - this struck me as odd.

But if TMitWH is half as good as OF it is a must buy. Sarah suggests reading OF second. She may be right - I am not sure. However, where she is undoubtedly right is in asserting that one should read both.

Any novel that is stretched out over a lifetime has a head start to my mind. And any novel based on people who are entirely credible (OF's characters certainly are and I incline to expect the same result with TMitWH) is also much more likely to succeed.

Incidentally, I checked with an old HK hand and he assures me that when his family made its way out there in the early nineteen fifties there were stops in Rome or Cairo and then Karachi. Two days all told and at the hands of BOAC.

As it happens, I also think Jane Gardam is a top class bird.

Simon Cawkwell
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 March 2010
I don't think you can review one book with out reviewing the other, just as I don't think you can read one and not the other. "Old Filth" was published in 2006. It is the story of Sir Edward Feathers, a noted jurist based in Hong Kong. His nickname - "Old Filth" - was at odds with his precise and personal probity. "Filth" stands for "Failed In London, Try HongKong". Sir Edward's life is written by Jane Gardam in not exactly a timely sequence; she starts when he is an old and distinguished judge, retired back in England, living life alone after the death of his wife, Betty. He meets an new neighbor who turns out to be an old enemy of his, a fellow jurist, also newly retired from duty in Hong Kong.

The main story in "Old Filth" is about Edward Feather's childhood as a "Raj" orphan. He was born to an English doctor and his wife in the British East Indies. His mother dies in childbirth and his father, stricken by his wife's death and becoming an alcoholic, basically turns over baby Edward to the care of a native nurse. Edward is sent back to England at an early age, boarding with first a family near Wales, and then entering boarding schools. World War 2 begins when he's about 17 and is on his way back to the Indies to live with his father. He is forced to return to England, where he is further educated in the law, and, after the war, goes to live in Hong Kong, becoming first a noted lawyer and then a judge. He's met Betty along the way, and she, another orphan, born in China to British parents who are die under Japanese captivity, make a long, mostly happy but childless marriage.

"The Man in the Wooden Hat", published in 2009, is neither the prequel or sequel to "Old Filth". Rather, it is the companion piece. If "Filth" told the story from Sir Edward's point, "Man" focuses on the story from Betty's. Gardam's writing in both books is exquisite, spare yet right to the point. Both main characters are given equal weight, along with the secondary ones, most of whom are drawn as well as Betty and Edward.

Both books are just superb; if I could give six stars to both, I would.
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on 7 March 2010
Nothing to add to all the reviews - I read Old Filth first and loved it and was also totally absorbed by The Man in the Wooden Hat. However, one thing jarred with me. Betty is said to have been a child in a Japanese Internment camp during the war but we are also led to believe that she was a code-breaker at Bletchley Park. I have mused over this but still can't work out how she could have done both. Also at one point we are told she went back to England to finish her education and attend university. (Before or after Bletchley?) If anyone can throw any light on this puzzle - especially if I have missed something - I would be most grateful.
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on 24 April 2012
Jane Gardam is a very skilled writer with an eye for detail and a great sense of humour. This book is well worth reading particularly if you read Old Filth and liked that, it is almost as good but not quite.

The opening chapters are carefully and engagingly written and I would say the same for the last few chapters. It's the bit in the middle that does feel rushed, as other reviewers have pointed out. There are some great ideas that go undeveloped and the main character Betty is for me, a likeable, complex and intriguing character but somehow she remained a detailed sketch rather than a fully realised character.

The whole book could have done with another pass to really finish and polish what is an extremely good book. If any other author had written this I would have given 4 stars but having read Jane Gardam before I was aware of how much more there would have been if another draft had been done. Who knows what the reason was for this?

It is still well worth the read and I wouldn't want to put anyone off, you will be rewarded if you pick it up. But it could have been a better book.
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on 8 January 2016
Second in this superb trilogy, this is the story of Betty, long married to Judge Edward Feathers, (or Old Filth) the saga of whose long life was told in the first, "Old Filth". We revisit several incidents from that excellent biography, but with the interesting new slant of his amazing wife’s viewpoint. Just as riveting, and as brilliantly written, and I greatly look forward to completing the trilogy, the third book now beckoning me from the shelf.
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on 16 April 2015
This is the second book in the series and helps fill out what is missing in the first book but I still feel that you are looking at the characters from behind a net curtain. This book is about Betty - Filth's wife but you learn virtually nothing of her early life or really what she felt at any time. Having said all that I did enjoy the book and will probably read the third book in the series.
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