For my birthday my sister gave me The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam. It’s actually the second in the ‘Old Filth’ trilogy, and whilst I will now read the other two, you can absolutely enjoy this book on its own merits. It’s about the life of Betty Feathers, married to the judge Edward Feathers in Hong Kong after the second world war, and ranges between the Japanese internment camps and life in Hong Kong and a sleepy English village. It turns out the filth in this context stands for Failed in London Try Hong Kong – I loved this acronym, which I hadn’t come across before.
It’s an era and a part of the world I love reading about and as their life together unfolds nothing is simple and straightforward in the choices Betty and Edward make about love and about each other. It’s so well written you watch them both hide parts of themselves from each other and witness both their closeness and their distance.
The sticky heat of Hong Kong rises off the page, post-war London is reconstructed around you and you can smell the roses in Betty’s English garden as they settle back after years in ‘the far east’. It’s such an interested period in history, but just as good is the more contemporary end of the book where Edward is alone and locked in battle with his neighbour in the village and unlikely friendships form in the snow of a lonely English Christmas.
This book was a pleasure to read from start to finish and I’m already looking forward to reading the other two.