Let me begin by saying that I don’t usually read spy thrillers. So the fact that I’ve not only read several John le Carré novels, but have some of them on my “favourite books” list, is quite remarkable.
For years John le Carré’s novels had been on our bookshelf (Willie is a fan), but I’d not paid them any attention. Then I began to see film adaptations of his books. First, The Tailor of Panama and then The Constant Gardener. I enjoyed both films a lot. The Constant Gardener is one of my favourite films ever. It occurred to me then that what made them so good was the excellent story telling. Although I have not read many of John le Carré’s “real” spy novels i.e. his Cold War books, I’ve really enjoyed his other books. Three of my all time favourites are The Little Drummer Girl (1983), The Constant Gardener (2001) and The Honourable Schoolboy (1977 – which is in fact one of the “Cold War” books).
Unlike a lot of other thriller writers, le Carré concentrates on the story, characters and place, rather than high-tech gadgetry. Which means that even though the books were written a while back, they don’t seem dated.
The Constant Gardener
Frightening, heartbreaking, and exquisitely calibrated, John le Carré’s novel opens with the gruesome murder of the young and beautiful Tessa Quayle near northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the birthplace of mankind. Her putative African lover and travelling companion, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has vanished from the scene of the crime. Tessa’s much older husband, Justin, a career diplomat at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive. What he might know and what he ultimately learns make him suspect among his own colleagues and a target for the profiteers who killed his wife.
With a major portion of the story being played out in Africa, including beautiful descriptions of Africa and its people, this naturally became a favourite of mine. The film version is beautifully filmed – well worth watching just for the imagery. John le Carré himself has said of the film adaptation of The Constant Gardener: “The job of the movie as far as I’m concerned – the novelist – is to take the minimum intention of the novel and illustrate it with the maximum of freedom. In movie language, in movie grammar. There’s hardly a line left,there’s hardly a scene intact that comes from my book, yet I don’t know of a better translation from novel to film.” Reading the book after watching the film, added depth to my understanding of the story.
Review on PolitcalAffairs.net
Review by Bill Bennet
The Little Drummer Girl
In this thrilling and thought-provoking novel of Middle Eastern intrigue, Charlie, a brilliant and beautiful young English actress, is lured into “the theatre of the real” by an Israeli intelligence officer. Forced to play her ultimate role, she is plunged into a deceptive and delicate trap set to ensnare an elusive Palestinian terrorist.
What especially interested me about this book is that the situation in the Middle East has changed so little since the book was published in 1983. It could easily have been set in more recent years.
You can read the Kirkus Review of The Little Drummer Girl here.
The Honourable Schoolboy
In the wake of a demoralizing infiltration by a Soviet double agent, Smiley has been made ringmaster of the Circus (aka the British Secret Service). Determined to restore the organization’s health and reputation, and bent on revenge, Smiley thrusts his own handpicked operative into action. Jerry Westerby, “The Honourable Schoolboy,” is dispatched to the Far East. A burial ground of French, British, and American colonial cultures, the region is a fabled testing ground of patriotic allegiances and a new showdown is about to begin.
Although this book is one of le Carré’s more conventional spy novels, I enjoyed as the Kirkus review puts it “the intricacies of “tradecraft,” the loaf-and-lurch lives of newsmen abroad, the anti-travelogue Asian backgrounds.”
Review on Mount Helicon Review
Review on Kirkus
Have you read any John le Carré novels and enjoyed them?