The Man in the Wooden Hat, by Jane Gardam. Published 2009 by Europa Editions.
Last Friends, by Jane Gardam. Published 2013 by Europa Editions.
The Man in the Wooden Hat and Last Friends are companion books to
Gardam's Old Filth, a celebrated and popular novel about Edward
Feathers, QC, a British lawyer born in Malaysia at the start of the
20th century, whose life spans that century and by all accounts, has
been a pretty good success. He's had a great career in law, a happy
marriage, and all appears to be well. But Feathers is a man who
doesn't quite know how to love, and thus there are problems that
nearly escape the eye, both with his marriage and his few
friendships. Central to his life are his wife Betty and his rival
(and her lover) Terry Veneering. Each novel, which together comprise
one story, tells the story of these lives from the perspective of
each character in turn.
Book two, The Man with the Wooden Hat,
is Betty's. We see
her as a young woman just as she's about to marry Edward, and we see
the beginning of her relationship with Veneering and we see how her
life stretches out into different kinds of disappointments, finally
ending in a kind of reconciliation and acceptance of what she's made
of it. I love the way this book rounded out her character and shared her
secrets. Particularly touching is her relationship with Veneering's
son, Henry. In Last Friends, we get Veneering's story, as well of
that of a heretofore minor character called Frederick Fiscal-Smith.
Veneering is a lonely man; the son of a
scrappy and passionate young woman and a shady Russian she meets in a
circus, Veneering is constantly trying to reinvent himself and find
his place in the world. His love for Betty is the one constant in his
life but of course she is already married. His family life is a failure
but his career
is a success, and in the end he consoles himself with the friendship
of the one man he never expected to provide that- Edward Feathers.
Their friendship is one of the mysteries of life, and one worth
I really loved all three of these books. I think they should be
read together, as one narrative, starting with either Old Filth
or Wooden Hat and finishing with Last Friends. It's
elegaic and a testament to a lost world, albeit one many do not miss. Last Friends also
sees the comic character of Fiscal-Smith transformed and fleshed out,
something I did not expect but enjoyed. Jane Gardam is
one of those writers who just sneaks up on you. It's been a few years
since I read her and I almost forgot just how good she really is. The
books have all been popular book club choices and I hope her fans
come in for this one, because it's really superb and offers a lot of
insights into the characters that she seems to have been saving for
this volume. She shows so much empathy for these wounded and
vulnerable characters, and she ends the last book on such a sweet
note of compassion and hope, as though the story doesn't have to be
over, at least not quite yet.
These are my 7th and 8th books for the 2013 Europa Challenge. I
finished them in May.
Rating: BUY for both
FTC Disclosure: I received The Man in the Wooden Hat for review from Europa Editions; I purchased Last Friends.