Saturday, 23 January 2021

Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré

Agent Running in the FieldAgent Running in the Field by John le Carré
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've come late to le Carré, the late le Carré, prompted by the eulogies that accompanied his death to dig out some of the books I knew of but had never read (Tinker, Tailor; all the 'Smiley' novels) together with some of his more recent offerings about espionage in a post-cold war, privatised age. So far, the hype seems justified; the praise deserved. The craftsmanship of a plot that reveals just enough to set the mind (and, occasionally, pulse) racing is, of course, taken as read. And the prose is no more that its servant: the vehicle for the characters and the story, not a character, not a story in itself. In that, they're easy reading. But strangely compelling. And minutely observed. And although le Carré takes the literary high ground as omniscient narrator, showing just as much of his hand as he knows is necessary to keep the reader going, the voice - at least in this book - seems also to inhabit the characters in a manner that hides the former spy-cum-author perfectly, as he obviously intended. Agent Running in the Field is full of these acts of authorly ventriloquism: Nat, the urbane ex-field agent out to grass in an intelligence cul-de-sac back home, Ed the oddball whose path crosses Nat's on the badminton court and whose unpredictable, but ultimately honourable, activities almost bring about Nat's downfall. Each character speaks and the voice is perfect; we share each characters inner thoughts as if from their own point-of-view; and yet behind it all, le Carré the puppet-master pulls all the strings. And pulls them expertly.

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