Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart of darkness, 9 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Mission Song (Paperback)
This is John le Carré's 20th novel, which I first read shortly after its publication in 2006. I picked it up to read again last week, wanting to re-visit his characteristically exact creations of dialogue, including examples like (p82):

"Try this one for size," he suggested, as if offering me a compromise that would satisfy my over-exacting standards. "Suppose we put it out that you speak English, French and Swahili and call it a day? That's more than enough for anybody. And we keep your little ones to ourselves. How would that grab you? Different kind of challenge for you. New."

This is Maxie speaking. He's one of the leaders of a syndicate that needs the services of Bruno Salvador, a linguist of mixed race, in order to decipher the discussions of a group of Congolese that the group is trying to recruit to their plan which will "give a shove to history". What kind of a shove that is, and how it is to be implemented, emerge in the course of the story, but - as often is the case with le Carré (who's said many times that he always wants to be writing in the present) - there's a rather startling parallel with contemporary events: in this case, the 2004 misadventures of Simon Mann, Nick du Toit and Mark Thatcher in Equatorial Guinea.

Besides nailing his speech patterns precisely, the above extract also suggests that Maxie isn't being completely truthful with Bruno, or the group - which, of course, is de rigeur in le Carré's world of deception and betrayal. His usual modus operandi is to insert a flawed innocent into a land of shadows and lies, and document their attempts to find their way out or rectify the wrongs they encounter. Naive, hapless and a stranger, Salvo plays that role here to perfection. Somewhat unusually, le Carré tells his story in the first person, which stretches his own linguistic gifts still further, as he's required to inhabit Salvo's head and see the world through his eyes. Since the world is busy deceiving him, Salvo is an unreliable narrator, and the reader has to continually re-interpret things that are said, and things that happen, until the inevitable ending is reached.
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Jeremy Walton
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