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A Homage to "Our Man in Havana"
on 2 May 2011
This is not a Le Carre spy thriller. If you come to this book expecting another of his great spy books then you may be disappointed. In fact "The Tailor of Panama" is a sort of homage to Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana", and the books are probably best read as a pair so you can understand where Mr Le Carre got his idea from, and how the two great writers develop the idea differently. Graham Greene's book is a lightweight and gentle romantic comedy. Not his best book by a long way but enjoyable enough. John Le Carre develops the characters and the idea much more fully, with a much darker twist. To be honest the mixture of styles didn't really work for me. The books starts as a bit of a farce - very much along the same lines as "Our Man in Havana" - but subtly changes into tragedy as people begin to take the tailor's stories seriously. Unfortunately I found the book too long, with too many side shoots and diversions, and I found I was just reading it to finish it for much of the second half. The ending is moving but I found it quite confusing. Where is the tailor going? His wife has finally realised she loves him; and he realises he loves Marta; so why does he do what he does? While it is interesting for one great writer to take on another great writer's idea, I felt that Mr Le Carre played it out too much. The book could have been much better and much sharper at half the length and still delivered a moving ending.