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Le Carre loses his shades
on 10 December 2010
It's not 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold', nor is it any of the Smiley series, nor is as good IMO as his latest (Our Kind of Traitor). I'm surprised at how well reviewed this book has been. Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post was one of few reviews that did not seem to be saying, implicitly, "this is a good and subtle take on the war-on-terror because it criticises it like all good people should". He points out, that the book could have centered more on it's most interesting character (the German spy Bachmann), and I would add that Le Carre could have made a decent novel great by using the Bachman character to explore a surprisingly lose thread in the story - the story of the wanted man (Issa).
In the Daily Mail Stella Rimmington reviewed this novel, she was disappointed at his relatively cheap cynicism, and I'm writing this because I was too. At his cold war best, Le Carre captured the equivalence and ambiguity of spy v spy - who's good, who's bad, on the ground it's hard to tell - though his sympathies and heroes ultimately were with the West. But here, in his conclusion, he loses the tensions that really do exist in the 'war on terror'. Fine to have some blustering Americans and 'right-wing' German intelligence factions, but the point in a world that is not black and white, and the point that Le Carre could have made so well, is that they will be right half the time, not that they are always wrong because well paid and attractive female human rights lawyers say they must be. I was terribly disappointed by how this book unfolded, it lacks shades.