Reading With Fakename: John Le Carre

Presently I’m reading the latest book (published this year) by Le Carre, titled “A Delicate Truth”. No offense intended, but I thought John Le Carre was dead. But he isn’t. He’s 82 and still writing, and writing well. How marvelous is that?
A little about the book: The story is about an “incident” that takes place on the Isle of Gibraltar, which is a British territory, much to the annoyance of Spain. There is a very hush-hush mission to capture a “high-value target” (read: terrorist) who is on the island to purchase weapons from an arms dealer who is a British informant. The mission goes horribly wrong, although some of the participants don’t learn this for years.
In some ways the book is as suspenseful as anything else Le Carre ever wrote. And while it may seem dated now, “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold” should be on every list of the top 100 books ever written. The problem is, this book suffers from poor editing. It shifts from one person talking to another person talking or from back then to right now, with no warning. It should be a new chapter, or at the very least, a little division like ****** at the bottom of a line. So you often find yourself having to go back two pages to catch where the direction changed. Very annoying.
One of the other challenges, although I find it kind of charming, is the language. It’s British English, which I don’t speak very well, although I’m getting better at it. A bonnet, you say? Isn’t that something you wear on your head? No? In keeping with that, there is the British “habit” I guess…I don’t know how else to describe it…of asking a question at the end of a statement. I specifically noted this passage, which I swear I am repeating word for word, to illustrate this “habit”.
Referring to a retired diplomat: “He’d got as high as they’d let him go, mind you. Reached his ceiling, hadn’t he?–as far as they were concerned. Nobody’s going to give him the top billet, not after what happened in Hamburg, are they? You’d never know when it was coming home to roost–well, would you?”
I wonder if this happens because Britain is too close to France. French syntax is of course all backward as far as English speakers are concerned, but it seems to have a way of rubbing off. Prime example: Cajun and Creole speech in Louisiana. Say you’d like to make a statement: “I’d like some French fries”. How you speak it is a question. “I could have some French fries?” (My unspoken response was always, Well, you could, but you’d have to ask for them.) Or you really want to emphasize a statement. You don’t say “I really don’t like French fries”. You say, “I don’t like French fries, me”. We now know for a fact that it is you personally who doesn’t like French fries.
None of this takes away from Le Carre’s grasp of his subject matter or his ability to tell a story. And without saying so outright, he asks moral questions. Where do you draw the line between secrecy and accountability? Between good intentions and the bad results of those intentions?
It’s a very timely story. Arabic terrorists. Edward Snowden. I’m almost finished, and at the moment, I’m fearing for the survival of both the main characters. We shall see.

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2 responses to “Reading With Fakename: John Le Carre

  1. Gibraltar isn’t an in isle; it’s a peninsula. Or is it an isle for “fictional” purposes? When we were in Spain, I wanted to go to Gibralter (and also Andorra) but we couldn’t make make time for them.

  2. Interesting, sc. It seems you are right, It looks like you have to take a bridge to it though on the maps I’ve looked at. Is that right?

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