I found The Green Hat difficult to get into. The first 30 to 40 pages seemed very slow but the pace then quckened until it reached a quite gripping denouement. It pays re-reading as there are several clues which it is easy to miss the first time round.
The character of Iris Storm is intriguing. Although she has acquired the reputation as a “shameless, shameful” woman, she is actually a tragic figure: lonely, misunderstood, slandered and trying to forget the past – “I have lit many fires to quench one large fire.” (p.215) Iris could be seen as a woman before her time. In a man’s world she tries to play as a man – and loses tragically.
The quality of the writing is patchy but Arlen has some very successful devices such as filling novel with the colour green. Not only does the green hat appear at key points in the narrative but Iris also has a huge green emerald which is lost at a significant moment. Green was all the rage when Arlen was writing the novel and he gives a delightful description of a woman in a London street who strode past the narrator “in a bright green wrap with a high sable collar, and moving frantically below were bright green shoes and bright green stockings that appalled the suave dignity of the evening light.” (p.53). There are other green references – bright green walls and a bowl of green malachite in a nightclub (p.128), the dingy green velvet in a shop window (p.142). There are some other successful descriptive passages such as the drive through the Paris night to the nursing home which itself is very powerfully evoked.
The novel is very much of its time. It is set in Mayfair and Paris, is full of powerful cars and evening dress for dinner each night, gives a glimpse of the often tragic legacy of the First World War and an elliptical treatment of such issues as venereal disease whilst being written in a rather sardonic tone with some racist language. Attitudes to extra-marital sex and divorce have changed immensely since the 1920s: “never to give way to what you want to do, if honour tells you that you may not do it” (p.190).