The Man in the Wooden Hat is the second novel in the Old Filth trilogy. Old Filth examines the entirety of the life of its main character, Edward Feathers, while this novel takes a closer look at his marriage with Betty. As with Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat appears to be straightforward, but there is a kick at the end.
At the beginning of the novel, Eddie has sent a letter containing a marriage proposal to Betty, who is vacationing in Hong Kong while Eddie has been working in London. Betty accepts his proposal when he arrives in Hong Kong, where he makes only one condition, that Betty never leave him.
Only hours later, Betty meets Eddie’s rival, Terry Veneering, and falls immediately in love with him, although he is married with a son, Harry. She also falls in love with nine-year-old Harry. She is determined to marry Eddie; however, she spends a night with Terry before the wedding. Unfortunately, he leases a house for their rendezvous from Albert Ross, Eddie’s best friend, a Eurasian dwarf. Ross finds her purse there. He does not tell Eddie but returns the purse to Betty and tells him she must never leave Eddie. He knows of all the loss in Eddie’s life.
So begins their marriage. I did not dislike Betty despite her infidelity; in fact, I liked her, although it’s hard to decide what to think about Veneering. The novel follows the entirety of their marriage, which is reticent and notable for Eddie’s absences for work. Betty, who was born in China and subject as a child to detention by the Japanese, finds she cannot have children.
It’s hard to explain how this sort of everyday novel can be so absorbing. We think we know everything about the Featherses. But Gardam tilts everything slightly in the final chapter.