The Man in the Wooden Hat

Tessa Hadley writes:

The novel at any given moment has a special relationship with the recent past: worlds contiguous to its own, at the farther reaches of living memory, not yet floated off into history. Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn and William Trevor’s Love and Summer address themselves with urgency to 1950s Ireland, not out of nostalgia, but because something needs to be understood, for the record, in the relationship between those days and the way we live now. The least detail, captured in the right words, is eloquent: it was real, we could have reached and touched it, now it’s gone. Implicitly, change is these writers’ subject. Jane Gardam has been the recorder of aspects of Englishness for a long time: more than 20 novels over the past 40 years. Her latest, The Man in the Wooden Hat, addresses itself to the presumptions and tensions of postwar late Empire with a present interrogation more explicit – more political perhaps – than either of the two Irish novels.

(LRB 11 March 2010)

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