Tag Archives: John le Carre

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.

Reading With Fakename: Ministers of Fire

This is a classic spy novel in John le Carre mode, or Robert Ludlum (who himself does not hold a candle to le Carre).  Nobody, but nobody, can ever top The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.  The closest book and movie I can remember is Ken Follett’s Eye of The Needle.

This book is not it.  (Not all my book reviews are raves.)

I’m having trouble remembering what year it is, what country we’re in, who works for what agency, and who is betraying who.

To some extent it’s probably that I’m somewhat bored with this genre.

Our “hero” is Lucius Burling.  As the book opens, he is CIA Station Chief at the U.S. embassy in Kabul in 1979.  Then the ambassador is murdered.  The car, with Lucius and the ambassador enclosed, is surrounded by “police”, actually people dressed in police uniforms.  The ambassador is trying to open the car doors, and Lucius is trying to keep them closed.  First lesson.  Who are your friends?

In spite of the murder of the ambassador, Lucius decides to proceeed with his plan to make contact with the mujahedin in northern Afghanistan, and to bring in the Chinese to help support them.  He takes with him the wife of a colleague, ostensibly because she speaks Dari, but really because he has a crush on her.  That ends in disaster.  She’s abducted by the mujahedin and presumbably killed (although she may still be alive).

Fast forward to 2002.  Yeah, I’m confused too.  The book looked very promising.  The author sounds very intellectual, which just goes to show that intellectual does not a good writer make.

In anticipation of spending next week on St. George Island, on Friday I stocked up at the library.  I got a classic summer reading trash novel by Lisa Scotoline, a more literary sounding novel called The Watery Part of the World, a true adventure story called The Lost City of Z, and a biography of Che Guevara (!)

The Lost City of Z is about the search for El Dorado in South America.  It was on a display table which included other true adventure stories, which included In the Heart of the Sea–one of my favorite books ever.  That and The Tiger and No Way Down are my top three favorites.  Close behind is Tuna:  A Love Story.

I haven’t been able to convince anyone else of how good those books are 🙂  My likes in non-fiction have some things in common.  Nature and history, for example.  But people find those subjects boring and tedious somehow.

That said, perhaps you would like Ministers of Fire 🙂