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The Green Hat

By Michael Arlen

‘In her eyes you saw the landscape of England, spacious and brave’

When The Green Hat was published in 1924 it caused a sensation, selling millions of copies. With much of the action taking place in the nightclubs and grand houses of London’s Mayfair, it soon came to be seen as the quintessential roaring twenties novel, absolutely capturing the spirit of the era.

Iris Storm, a beautiful, doomed young widow, races around Europe and London in her yellow Hispano Suiza. One night, in the early hours, she parks outside a building in Shepherd Market. She has come to visit Gerald, her alcoholic twin brother. The narrator, who occupies the flat below his, lets her in. Her face is shaded by a jaunty green hat, but eventually it is removed and veiled language alludes to a sexual encounter.

The author, Michael Arlen, was born in Armenia. In this glittering novel he reflects on the manners and sexual mores of the English upper class in his adopted country. There are hints of homosexuality and venereal disease. Iris and Gerald are the last of their line. Gerald drinks, and Iris breaks all the Victorian feminine taboos in her pursuit of love. The ultimate femme fatale, she leaves a trail of havoc and broken hearts in her wake. Under her spell, the narrator follows her to Paris, where she is being treated in a convent for a mysterious ailment. A social outlaw, Iris will be punished for her transgressions.

As a portrait of a generation traumatized by the first world war, trying to piece together their lives in a broken continent, this is a dazzling and beautifully written novel. Its great success led to a film adaptation starring Greta Garbo as Iris.

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