on 9 September 2002
Although some think of John Le Carre's novels as airport/ beach reading, I must whole-heartedly disagree. The Constant Gardener is another fine example of his excellent writing. The plot starts simply when a British Foreign Office worker in Nairobi finds out that his wife has been brutally murdered on the shores of Lake Turkana. She was an aid-worker on her way with a colleague to uncover corruption in the pharmaceutical industry. As the story progresses not only does the husband realise how little he knows about his wife, but we realise that not everyone is as they seem. There are no clear villains in the story, which actually makes it scarily believable. Le Carre deftly weaves the story through different characters' point of view yet even the reader does not discover what really happened until Justin, the husband discovers it. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book; one you can't put down and a great introduction to the wit and skill of John Le Carre's writing.
on 19 May 2006
I read the book after seeing the film so this may have made it easier to follow for me. I absolutely loved the film and while there are quite a lot of differences between the film and the book, I was not dissapointed.
The story follows Justin trying to trace the killers of his wife Tessa. We get to know Tessa through her husbands flashbacks and the story is written from a the point of view of a number of different characters. It is set in Kenya, England and Italy. It is essentially a love story but also a mystery.
The author writes in a way that keeps you turning pages to find the next twist in the plot. I think not seeing the film first would make the book even more gripping to read. The authors style is fantastic, not giving too much away too soon and leaving some of the story to the readers imagination. Its not the type of book I normally read and I thought it may be heavy going, I was pleasantly surprised. A fantastic story with a gripping end. I cannot reccomend it highly enough.
on 28 October 2005
Having not picked up a le Carre book for quite a number of years now, I have not stopped wondering why, ever since starting The Constant Gardener. While le Carre has not lost any of the gritty realism that was alway essential to his storytelling, this novel is also fired by obvious passion and strongly held personal convictions about it's main theme, the exploitation of third world countries by multinational Pharmas, which gives it an added edge. That said, whatever you views on globalisation, this is a rich and rewarding book, filled with le Carre's wonderfully detailed characters, artfully crafted suspence and a tragically human lovestory.
on 23 February 2007
I don't usually persevere with books that take a long time to get going, but this was definitely worth sticking with. The trouble at the beginning for me was that I didn't really know who the story would focus on (Woodrow was a bit of a red herring), and it was a good couple of hundred pages before I really wanted to pick it up every time I saw it. But the characters do develop, and as Justin escapes the clutches of the diplomatic service to discover what happened to his wife, the plot goes along at a good pace. The story uncovers some pretty harsh observations about what goes on in the Third World with regard to pharmaceutical products, and Le Carre says himself at the end that compared to the reality, this book reads like a holiday postcard. Tessa's character was haunting, and I felt that by the end I knew her quite well, though she had been killed before the story opens. It has inspired me to question what goes on in the world a little more.
This is a well-written and engaging novel about the gap between the appearance and reality of Governments foreign policy, global companies window-dressing, and individuals own hidden depths, and tortured moral and ethical positions. If that all sounds too heavy, fear not, for these issues come cloaked in an intriguing thriller about a 'bystander' husband growing into the role of investigating his wife's brutal murder in Kenya, and bravely overcoming resistance from within his own (British) and other Governments, the Kenyan authorities, and the global interests of national and international business.
Le Carre presents the action from the viewpoint of a number of different characters, from the corrupted, compromised and innocent, to the driven and committed seekers of truth. By the end of this twisting novel, the reader comes to recognise just how elusive this truth can be, and how misrepresented in endless situations it may be. Tessa, the dead wife, is slowly developed through the testimony of the other main characters, and is one of these admirable seekers of truth and justice, whose ghost haunts everyone's recollections. Additionally, we identify with Justin Quayle, her husband, who moves from a shadowy, peripheral figure at first to a relentless avenging angel, as he crosses the globe to uncover the truth.
Perhaps too many perspectives/switches of character hinder the momentum of the plot at times, but this is a powerful novel about individual and corporate corruption, nakedly exposed as Justin methodically strips away the lies and excuses, and the reader identifies with his subtly-drawn character, and wills him to succeed. The downbeat ending is exactly right in tone, and reflects the way the world is in reality, rather than how we might wish it to be. An engaging, sobering and thoughful read throughout. Recommended.
on 25 April 2006
Le Carre to me has always represented intrigue, twisted plots with subtle sub-plots, and the master himself George Smiley. In this offering, Le Carre most certainly delivers although dear George doesn't get a look in. The story is woven about the life and death of the wife of a British Diplomat, Tessa Quayle, and the unmasking of a conspiracy that threatens to cripple Anglo-Kenyan relations. The diplomat, Justin Quayle, exhibits classic, even stereo-typical British cool in investigating the real reasons for his young wife's demise, while showing an insight into the strains and pressures of ex-pat officialdom.
Le Carre's strengths in this novel are in the way that some truly undesirable notions are brought to the readers attention, and the fact that he doesn't rose tint them just emphasises some of the realities of how we in the developed 'west' salve our guilt about sickness and poverty in Africa. That having been said, Le Carre also manages to construct a pretty good impression of the raw beauty of Africa and the culture of some of the people there.
If there are any weaknesses in the novel I would say that the ending stopped a little short and left me wondering what would happen next, particularly in London. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book, and now view the multi-national Phamaceuticals in a slightly different light.
on 23 March 2001
Le Carre has explores the dark side of the pharmaceutical industry in this tale of greed, corruption, love and murder.
Another departure from the spy novels that we associate with Le Carre, this book should appeal to anyone who enjoys a gripping tale and has a conscience. I strongly recommend Le Carre's own reading of the book on tape or CD.
When his beloved wife, Tessa, is raped and murdered in Kenya, Justin Quayle is forced out of his comfortable niche in the diplomatic service and is forced to follow and try to complete her investigation and indictment of the pharmaceutical industry's involvement in Africa.
This is very different in tone from the Smiley trilogy, but Le Carré has lost none of his story-telling skills and page-turning abilities. The attention to the human heart, however, is deepened here, and Smiley's feelings for his unfaithful wife are turned into something both central and very moving in this book.
While this is, in lots of ways, a very angry book, the indignation is controlled so that this doesn't become a tirade against capitalism. But it does expose some very dark dealings indeed, and refuses to allow anyone to escape with a plea of ignorance.
I found this a very intense and often very painful read as it stares unflinchingly into the heart of western trade. Highly recommended.
I'ts difficult to believe that I've been reading John le Carré books for 50 years. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was the first I read in the late 60s. I was hooked by a powerful narrative about a world then unknown to most. The Cold War was still at its height and the machinations of East West relations, Governments, duplicity and the rest was a world of mystery brought vividly to life. I've enjoyed most of leCarré's books and The Constant Gardener is one of the best.
The story is set largely in post colonial Kenya, and centres on the brutal death of Tessa, the wife of a Foreign Office official. She's no ordinary FO type wife; she's intelligent, singular and dedicated. She's uncovered some unsavoury facts around the distribution and use of a miracle drug. Suffice to say, the interests of the pharma industry, as always, are paramount and the welfare of disadvantaged but desperate people in third world areas are fully exploited for profit.
Carré's books have moved with the times. He's not stuck in the spy genre. In my view, he's possibly the best living British novelist and I find it surprising that he's not widely recognised and nominated for literary prizes. He's possibly too successful and popular to deemed worthy of literary merit, but his writing is always relevant. Satisfyingly complex plot, acutely observed characters, a sardonic sense of humour and exposure of moral duplicity, he's never boring. He excels at the dialogue and duplicity of Foreign Office officials, at home and abroad. He's succinct in social settings which pinpoint pretensions and self aggrandisement.
I bought the Audible version of this book, brilliantly narrated by Michael Jayston and I enjoyed every minute. It's an excellent read.
on 12 February 2009
I am by no means as you can see the first to review this book. I also did not see the film when it was released a few years ago. I have to say I have come to read this book quite late after its initial publication. However, having just finished the novel as part of a reading group I belong to this book has left an indelible impression on me. How much of this book is faced on fact or real characters, it certainly makes you think!
Anyway, what a book! Is it a love story? Spy story? Or even a murder mystery? Or all three? It certainly has elements of all these genres. The book is full of political intrigue, featuring a controversial subject. The novel is structured around the machinations of the pharmaceutical industry. The book explains the way in which third world countries (in this novel primarily Kenya and the African continent) are used as `guinea pigs' by a major pharmaceutical company - KVH and its distribution partner in Kenya The Three Bees who foist a drug Dypraxa on a population of Kenyan villagers who are suffering from Tuberculosis. The drug however is not fully stable for international dispensing and it is through bribery and corruption that has led to the drug being tried out on poor Kenyans with disastrous results. Le Carre highlights the way in which these companies buy and then influence opinion amongst governments, academics and the medical profession through bribery, coaxing, blackmail and plain bullying. It is exquisitely written, full of intrigue and despite the books length a real `page turner'!
How sad that Justin Quayle would appear to suffer the fate of his wife Tessa. It seems the `bad guys' win in the end.