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The Boston Globe: "A Study in Repression"

Date: Nov 18 2009

“The Man in the Wooden Hat,’’ a sequel - or a fraternal twin - to Jane Gardam’s acclaimed “Old Filth,’’ fills out the story of the enigmatic and peripatetic British barrister Sir Edward Feathers, the earlier novel’s eponymous hero (“Filth’’ being a sardonic acronym: “Failed in London Try Hong Kong’’).

This half of the story belongs to Betty, the vibrant young Englishwoman whom Edward marries on minimal acquaintance while working on a case in Hong Kong not long after the end of World War II. Like Edward, Betty is a “Raj orphan,’’ and both are recklessly, heart-rendingly eager to put behind them the hardships suffered during the war. Betty, we learn, was interned in a Japanese prison camp and in childhood sacrificed to empire and to England, touchingly capitalized as “Home’’ in the words and thoughts of the novel’s imperial expatriates. Gardam, a novelist of sublime subtlety and quirkiness, alludes to those hardships with an artful obliquity more devastating than any piling on of documentary detail.

Companionable but passionless, this very British marriage is a study in repression: the stiff-upper-lip suppression of wartime memories and of more private secrets both spouses will go to their graves fondly, foolishly thinking they have kept from each other.