Re: Last Book Read...

caractacus potts wrote:

The Honourable SchoolBoy
John leCarre

Sir Hillary Bray wrote:

My all-time favorite writer.  No, not you Potts -- Le Carre!  ajb007/biggrin

Very fair review, although I liked the whole journey a bit more than you did.  Westerby is the classic Le Carre sad sack -- jaded, resentful, but with just enough left in him to care.  I'll be interested in your review of Smiley's People, assuming you intend to read it (or may have already done so).

oh I liked it plenty.
I've read most of his early books over the last little while, and gotten to appreciate the tricks he uses to tell his story in a roundabout way. And that approach probably is more appropriate to a spy story, where so little us actually known by the people who're paid to know whats what.
But I did notice in this one he was really working that roundabout storytelling, and when I got to those two passages when he seemed to be congratulating himself for his own technique I did say out loud "oh get on with it!"

anyway our Fleming books average two hundred pages, so since leCarre does give us two hundred pages of  straightforward adventure in SouthEast Asia at the end, the rest is bonus.

I do have Smiley's People lined up next, in fact everything up to A Perfect Spy is currently sitting on my bookshelf and I will probably keep going after that.


Re: Last Book Read...

I've finished "Knife" the latest Harry Hole novel from Jo Nesbö. Nesbö is a masterful crime novel writer and I actually think he would be a good bond continuation novel writer if given the chance. I'm not going to say too much about "Knife". Harry is far from as well-adjusted and happy as he was in "Police" and that makes me happy. Not because I'm a sadist (I think I would like the novel even if I wasn't one  ajb007/shifty ) but because Harry Hole works better as a character when he's fighting with his demons. A very good crime novel  ajb007/smile


Re: Last Book Read...

Flashman on the March

Finally made it to the end of the Flashman adventures! sad day. I'd been pacing myself because they were so good and wanted to keep something to look forwards to, but that's it I've now read all twelve.

Has anybody ever compiled a list of Flashman's Unseen Missions? He mentions dozens in passing every book. I think in the earliest books, he would mention events that Fraser would later return to as the subject of future books, and in the later books he is mostly referring to adventures we've already seen. But there's still completely untold tales he references even in the last books.

And there's a few long unexplained gaps in his biography. In this one, in one of the footnotes Fraser even "hypothesises" Flashman's movements during the long gap following the most recent (internally chronological) adventure. I don't think Fraser would have felt the need to do this in his earlier novels, he'd just leave that to be explored later. So I suspect he knew he'd be writing no more and would never have another chance to fill in the gaps?

I do have a copy of the Pyrates in my to-read pile. I was attracted by the sexy cover. So there's that to look forward to.
A bookstore near me has Fraser's Hollywood History of the World: from One Million BC to Apocalypse Now. Has anybody read this? The idea of history as mis-told by pop culture appeals to me, as that's what future generations will be trusting to get their information from.


Re: Last Book Read...

Smiley's People

Sir Hillary Bray wrote:

...I'll be interested in your review of Smiley's People...

ha! after me kvetching about the overcomplicated PoV stuff in the previous book, you knew what I'd find!
This book is told almost entirely through the eyes of George Smiley!
I guess its title derives from it being basically a series of interrogations, as Smiley inches his way towards his archenemy Karla.

The first half of the book takes the form of a murder mystery, much like when Smiley was first introduced in Call for the Dead.
The trickiest bit of narrative technique comes in the middle, just as Smiley figures out whats going on. Sort of a set of nested flashbacks, as one character remembers another who in turn once described a memory of someone else who might actually have met Karla and even hinted that Karla may have a secret of his own.
Then Smiley himself goes on a field mission, to the redlight district of Hamburg, and finally to Geneva. I felt rather scared for our pudgy hero in some of these scenes.

It all ends surprisingly conclusively for a le Carre novel, at least at first glance.

Spoilerthe final scene is a mirror image of the opening of the "the Spy Who Came in from the Cold"

so its resolving more than just the storyline begun in Tinker Tailor

Spoiler1) after 300 pages of interrogations, we don't actually see Smiley so much as speak to Karla. le Carre leaves us at the cusp of that moment. Yet Smiley's entire life's work was a type of conversation with his alter-ego, what can these two men possibly have to say face-to-face that hasnt already been said?
2) its impossible to believe an evil genius like Karla could be persuaded to surrender. He must be up to something, Smiley must be being played even as his colleagues congratulate him on his success. This implication is left to our imaginations, but becomes hard to deny the more I dwell on plot points and the ending.

I see le Carre has a new book out. I wonder is it safe to leap ahead and read that one? or are his recent books still intertwined with recurring characters and story arcs?


Re: Last Book Read...

caractacus potts wrote:

Smiley's People...

Great review, CP.  After what I considered the brilliant TTSS and the almost-brilliant THS, I could only imagine the Karla Trilogy's conclusion would be anticlimactic, and so I approached it with great trepidation.  Imagine my surprise to find it an absolute crackerjack.  The story just flew by, and I loved being in Smiley's head almost exclusively.  Even though I didn't have the same reaction you articulate in your second spoiler, neither can I really argue against it.  I did love Smiley's muted reaction to his triumph in a struggle he had dedicated much of his professional life to and could never really was winnable.  Classic George, and classic Le Carré.

Hilly...you old devil!


Re: Last Book Read...

I think that of the 10 (or thereabouts) John Le Carré novels that I have read, it was probably Smiley's People that I found most gripping, and I certainly didn't expect that. It is even more surprising considering that it was the only time that I had watched a screen adaptation of the novel before reading the book, so I knew the plot of the story and yet I still found it a really exciting read.


Re: Last Book Read...

I see that Smiley and Guillame each appear in two later novels, reminiscing about their classic adventures. So I guess if something went wrong after the final page of Smiley's People, we would have heard about it.
Smiley's People doesn't really reference the Honourable Schoolboy much, mostly building directly from events in Tinker Tailor.... But it does clarify the ending of ...Schoolboy, turns out Guillame was right to be paranoid.

Thinking more about the title:
Smiley doesn't seem to do normal healthy relationships with fellow humans, as repeatedly evidenced by his disfunctional marriage. But this interrogating he does, politely yet relentlessly ripping the truth out of the various characters he meets, that seems to be how he relates to people. He does that with several of his former professional colleagues in this book, people that a normal human would consider friends, and they comment on it.
It's part of why the long painful interrogation of Connie Sachs is so central and rather disturbing.

also: imagine if Bond had to abandon his Aston mid-adventure because gypsy urchins had vandalised it. I think le Carre was having a laugh at his hero in that scene.


Re: Last Book Read...

and in other spy-fiction,
Archie as the Man from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.
Archie Andrews that is!

a recent paperback from Archie Comics, compiling a run of stories from the mid60s, in which Archie and his gang are secret agents!
Originally published in Life with Archie 45 through 63 (Jan 66-July 67), around the same time as the better known Archie-as-superhero Pureheart the Powerful stories.

R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E. stands for Really Impressive Vast Enterprise for Routing Dangerous Adversaries, Louts, Etc, but the actual organisation they work for is called P.O.P. (Protect our Planet), named after Pop Tate, whose soda shop is their secret headquarters.
Their opposing organizaion is C.R.U.S.H., whose acronym is never explained. And the P.O.P.agents names are correctly spelled A.R.C.H.I.E., J.U.G.H.E.A.D., etc, and these acronyms are not explained either.

In the first missions, V.E.R.O.N.I.C.A. and R.E.G.G.I.E. are members of C.R.U.S.H., but inexplicably about four missions in they too become part of P.O.P. In agent V.E.R.O.N.I.C.A.'s case, she is sporting a mod bob hairstyle and dressing in sleek Diana Rigg style costumes, which the more modest girl-next-door agent B.E.T.T.Y. tends not to do. Also, many of the plots revolve around Mr Lodge's factory, which now produces secret weapons technology such as invisible bombs.
But it is Agent B.E.T.T.Y. who gets her own spinoff series the Girl from R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.

The villains are all costumed supervillain types, with gimmicky superpowers, the same as Pureheart the Powerful would be fighting, but in this context mostly motivated to steal top secret technology from Mr Lodge's factory.

And, A.R.C.H.I.E.'s jalopy is now tricked out with outrageous gadgets our Q department never thought of.

Maybe not quite so good as Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD, or Wally Wood's THUNDER Agents, but easier to read than le Carre.


Re: Last Book Read...

Len Deighton

Bios tell me Dieghton was a graphic artist before becoming an author. Which makes sense, as he gives us a series of striking visual images but leaves it up to us readers to interpret their meaning and assemble them into a narrative.

The first half especially he gives us our Plot in random isolated fragments.
The conventional spythriller plot fragments come in between much more interesting dialogs, as our nameless protagonist makes smart-ass remarks to his superiors and complains constantly about expenses owing and backpay even as he is transferred and promoted to  much better job. Mostly its all about class resentments, as everybody else is posh and born to power and our nameless protagonist never misses an opportunity to remind them.

Partway through there's a change of scene to a Pacific atoll where there's a neutron bomb test scheduled, and the episodic storytelling is replaced by something resembling a conventional plot. And something bad does happen, but I'm not sure its anything to actually do with the bomb or just an excuse to entrap our nameless protagonist. The plot flows more continuously from this point, but it's still a sequence of confusing images that may or may not add up.

Novel ends with two chapters of exposition, where our nameless protagonist explains to his sexy assistant all the fine details of the plot that were only ever hinted at in glimpses the first time round. Sounds like there was an exciting spy story going on in between all the smart-ass exchanges about backpay! (ironic the sexy assistant has to ask what the plot was all about, since during the Pacific atoll scenes she demonstrated she was a smarter more competent spy than her boss.)

SpoilerI'm also not convinced our nameless protagonist did anything to solve the case or catch the baddies. Seems like he was being played for a patsy by all sides, and other characters were doing all the important work in between the paragraphs we got to read

Lots of food snobbery here, and coffee snobbery decades before that was fashionable. And everybody reads fine literature. Our nameless protagonist may give attitude to all the toffs he has to work for, but he seems desperate to prove he's better than he is with all his ostentatious fine tastes.
But I gather Deighton also writes cookbooks when he's not writing spynovels, so thatd explain the big lobster and champagne finale too.