I simply had to read the text after seeing the stage play at the Arts recently. It's a play that can be enjoyed at many levels. The sharp-witted dialogue is difficult to surpass for pure amusement value. Yet the writer manages to avoid the comic exaggeration that could have reduced the characters to mere caricatures, portraying them with sufficient depth to generate genuine empathy from the reader. He also succeeds in vividly recreating and absorbing the reader into the atmosphere at a British public school in the 1930s. The psychological premise, though somewhat controversial, is intriguing: could subjecting a young man in his formative years to the sectarianism inherent in British upper class society have alienated him into betraying his country? Finally, the skilfully contrived plot does not obscure the underlying social theme that love is love, regardless of sexual orientation. Highly recommended.
I first read the play when I was scheduled to play Judd in a school production. (The headmaster cancelled it, though, for being too near the knuckle). Mitchell creates the world of boarding school life: it's pretensions, hypocrisy, stupidity and savagery. It's gloriously romantic and funny, but at the same time spot on: after all a bunch of Etonians discussing the prospect of running the country in their adult life, plus ca change.
Stella Rimington was recently on Radio 4 talking about it as a romanticising the story of being a spy. She didn't get it, the stuff about the ruling class being corrupt. Kind of shows what it takes to run MI5.
This was bought for my play reading group. We had great fun with it and understood the importance at the time it was first produced. In spite of this some of us agreed what message, if any, is it trying to convey?