726

Re: Last Book Read...

The Domino Effect wrote:

I would have to say that the last classic Le Carré was 'Absolute Friends". That said, I've enjoyed all of his since. He's still a masterful writer and I believe that if he wasn't writing 'spy thrillers', he would have won a mainstream literary award by now. Alas, like other genres, those who select such winners tend to frown on that field.

I think the Noble Prize for Literature needs to think in broader terms (it's the Swedes, of course  ajb007/shifty ). Why didn't a children's literature authors like Astrid Lindgren or Roald Dahl win? Would Graham Greene have won if he didn't write any thrillers? I think Le Carre is a worthy a Nobel.

727

Re: Last Book Read...

Number24 wrote:
The Domino Effect wrote:

I would have to say that the last classic Le Carré was 'Absolute Friends". That said, I've enjoyed all of his since. He's still a masterful writer and I believe that if he wasn't writing 'spy thrillers', he would have won a mainstream literary award by now. Alas, like other genres, those who select such winners tend to frown on that field.

I think the Noble Prize for Literature needs to think in broader terms (it's the Swedes, of course  ajb007/shifty ). Why didn't a children's literature authors like Astrid Lindgren or Roald Dahl win? Would Graham Greene have won if he didn't write any thrillers? I think Le Carre is a worthy a Nobel.


I love Astrid Lindgren's Emil books. So funny.

728

Re: Last Book Read...

Number24 wrote:
The Domino Effect wrote:

I would have to say that the last classic Le Carré was 'Absolute Friends". That said, I've enjoyed all of his since. He's still a masterful writer and I believe that if he wasn't writing 'spy thrillers', he would have won a mainstream literary award by now. Alas, like other genres, those who select such winners tend to frown on that field.

I think the Noble Prize for Literature needs to think in broader terms (it's the Swedes, of course  ajb007/shifty ). Why didn't a children's literature authors like Astrid Lindgren or Roald Dahl win? Would Graham Greene have won if he didn't write any thrillers? I think Le Carre is a worthy a Nobel.

I agree with all your points entirely. I have read that Graham Greene was blocked for years by one person on the committee who didn't like him. All the others wanted him to get it.

729

Re: Last Book Read...

After a #Metoo scandal (pretty much?) all of the Swedish Academy that picks the winner were fired/resigned last year. Dare we hope for a new way of thinking?

730

Re: Last Book Read...

I wouldn't want to suggest that there have been Nobel Laureates who were not worthy of their awards (I'm really not qualified to make such claims), but I would certainly state that there have been many people who should have got Nobel awards in their lifetimes and didn't. The Nobel prizes still have such resonance throughout much of the world that it's a shame that the selection process has been less than efficacious in the past.

731

Re: Last Book Read...

I've also heard (don't know if this is true) the former leader of the Swedish Academy didn't want to give the award to Americans. I do find it strange how authors like John Irving and Cormac McCarthy aren't Noble laurates. Any other thoughts of more comercially successful Authors who shluld get a nod?

732

Re: Last Book Read...

The Domino Effect wrote:

I would have to say that the last classic Le Carré was 'Absolute Friends". That said, I've enjoyed all of his since. He's still a masterful writer and I believe that if he wasn't writing 'spy thrillers', he would have won a mainstream literary award by now. Alas, like other genres, those who select such winners tend to frown on that field.

He writes a good sentence.
He does detailed character studies, capturing the voice and the worldview.
He does all this tricky Point-of-View stuff that is really only possible with prose.
He is very precise in what information he reveals and conceals to the reader, and when that works it is essential to the resolution of the story, like a perfectly engineered machine.
He does a lot of very artful writerly stuff that far exceeds the normal expectations of genre fiction, yet it still works as genre fiction to the point we can complain other spy writers don't tell spy stories properly like le Carre does.

Though personally I think fine Literature is overrated. I am more interested in plot than style.
Like I prefer pop songs that do something clever with the verse and chorus form than experimental music that abandons recognisable structure altogether.

733

Re: Last Book Read...

Plot is usually more important than how well the author suses language and style, but not always. I'd say Hemningway often doesn't do plot very well, but he writes so well hsi books are great anyway.

734

Re: Last Book Read...

I've never been a Le Carré fan, though I did read quite a few of his earlier books. Greene on the other hand was a superlative author with regards to both plot and character and I've always enjoyed those of his books I've read.

735

Re: Last Book Read...

a page back, HardyBoy was complaining about le Carre's political agendas getting in the way of his storytelling.
I've only got as far as ...Drummer Girl, and that was the first one I really noticed him making a political point. But I've seen the Constant Gardener film, so I have a sense of whats coming.

I think in ...Drummer Girl he was very even handed. It literally begins with the innocent victims of a terrorist bombing, and it's a few hundred pages later that we are introduced to the Palestinian refugee population the bomber claims to represent. And the Israeli spies who recruit Charlie are each very different types of people with different motivations.
Really its fashionable left-wing radicals who come in for the biggest drubbing.


After digesting that one a few days, I decided it was his best since Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The ones in between tend to ramble a bit and lose focus. Whereas ...Cold was just so damn efficient in building up to that suckerpunch on the last page.

...Drummer Girl is twice as long, and may seem to ramble, but its all important to the story's resolution. There's a lot of philosophising about the similarities between acting and spywork, and a lot of examination of Charlie's psyche, why she is so good at both ... its not natural, she may not be quite right.
And there's so much repetition of phrases like "the Theatre of the Real", it becomes a question of what is Real and who is to say (since our heroes are all professional liars, skilled at believing their own lies). Which leads to the unspoken question of who is to say what is Truth, i.e. the whole source of the problem, the never-ending religious wars.

There's some heavy ideas being worked out, that go way beyond the expected structure of a spy story, and he makes it all work because he has gotten so good at the tricky Point-of-View thing. That's a variation of the Unreliable Narrator, a specifically literary device.
And as with ...Cold, the whole is very efficient in building up to the final page.

So I'd say both ...Drummer Girl and ...Cold could qualify as Serious literature regardless of genre.

736

Re: Last Book Read...

There are so many great Le Carré books, but I believe his masterpiece is "A Perfect Spy". Absolutely riveting from beginning to end, and somewhat autobiographical too.

As for Graham Greene, Garbel, he's my favourite author. I recently read some of his first novels as I'd read everything else and they still stand up even now, some 80+ years later.

737

Re: Last Book Read...

caractacus potts wrote:

a page back, HardyBoy was complaining about le Carre's political agendas getting in the way of his storytelling.

Au contraire, Caracatus--I said it's his minutiae that gets in the way of his storytelling (the almost excessive detail about daily life in the office, procedures, etc.).  In fact, I praised him for examining the political underpinnings of the Cold War and for making a political attack on Big Pharma.  My complaint about the new novel is that he doesn't explore the politics of Brexit and Trump--he just takes it for granted that the two are bad and therefore we should be on the sides of the characters who are opposed to them.  Le Carré's great skill has been an ability to make readers understand political issues, so we can also understand what motivates characters and helps us understand their loyalties.  That quality is absent this time out.

Just setting the record straight.

Vox clamantis in deserto

738

Re: Last Book Read...

Hardyboy wrote:

Au contraire, Caracatus--I said it's his minutiae that gets in the way of his storytelling

aha! sorry to misrepresent, thank you for restating in your own words.


Hardyboy, I seem to remember that you know a thing or two about Literature?

What do you think about Domino Effect and Number24's argument that le Carre should win the Nobel Prize for Literature if he weren't a genre writer? (presuming I'm not misrepresenting them too!)
How would you define the difference between Literature and genre fiction? Is there a difference at all?
What are examples of good books that straddle the two categories, particularly spy thrillers?

739

Re: Last Book Read...

You didn't get my point wrong, I can't speak for Domino Effect. Cormac McCarthy has been is certainly an author who gets mentioned as someone who deserves a Nobel. He's written a western ("Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West") and a dark science-fiction novel ("The Road"). Even though the two novels ranks among his best he usually writes non-genere stuff I think. The same goes for Margret Atwood who's written "The Handmaid's Tale" and "Oryx and Crake" that science fiction. I javen't read her work, but I highly recomend the TV series "The Handmaid's Tale".

740

Re: Last Book Read...

Margaret Atwood is certainly a big award winner here in Canada.
check out this list of awards! no Nobel though.

I haven't seen the tv show, but did read the book way back when it first came out, also the Edible Woman, her first novel. and she is a very outspoken local celebrity!

She might be an example of a serious Literary type who dabbles in genre fiction and turns out to do it very well, maybe like Umberto Eco?
I notice a few of those awards she's won are scifi awards

741

Re: Last Book Read...

Umberto Eco is a good example. There is an element of the fantasy genere in "Baudolino".

742

Re: Last Book Read...

I think a lot of people, including scholars, sometimes struggle with keeping things in the context of the times. Not that I would suggest that Fleming should have won the Nobel Prize, but his portrayal of Britain (and indeed the world) in the post-war and Cold War period has historical value today. His plots and villains may have been fantastical, but the pictures he painted of Britain in the late 40s, early 50s etc, are valuable today. That was likely overlooked when they were published as it was the reality that surrounded the readers' lives at the time, but it is something that is largely underappreciated now.

743

Re: Last Book Read...

I agree. Both Fleming's writings and not least the massive popular reaction to it can tell us a lot about post-war Britain. Two examples are "reverse". The lavish meals and how detailed disscriptions of them apealed to people who were stil experienced rationing. The travelogue aspect of James Bond was exciting for a population where most weren't able to travel abroad.

744

Re: Last Book Read...

Black August
Dennis Wheatley
The first of 11 novels about the character of  Gregory Sallust, who I have frequently seen as an inspiration for James Bond.
I don't know about that...

This book is more of an alternate future, written in 1935, extrapolating on the events of the last few years, predicting the collapse of civilization. Sallust is off stage for most of the first half, and when he finally takes centre stage I cant say he's any sort of hero.

Hyperinflation, American isolation, a collapse of European economies, mass unemployment at home has led to civil unrest and Communist uprisings, with the Navy revolting and the government overturned.
We witness all this from the point of view of a couple of aristocrats trying to escape London, and mobbed by the east end rabble. Our hero Sallust saves them from the toothless hordes, machine gunning into the mob, then invites them along as he commandeers a navy vessel and attempts to flee to the Carribbean. When the sailors revolt, and set him adrift, he instead takes refuge in an abandoned coastal fortress and then raids the neighbouring farmers at gunpoint for their food and livestock, leaving them to starve.
(see, I don't remember James Bond doing any of that)

The vision of London in chaos is amazing, should be read to the tune of Anarchy in the UK or London Calling. And very detailed geography, every location named was easily factchecked in GoogleMaps and the movements of the characters all made sense. This is really a post apocalyptic scifi novel rather than any sort of spy story.

The political assumptions are a bit disturbing.
For one thing, though Communism is presented as the ultimate threat to civilization, Hitler is never mentioned once even though the book was written in 1935. Instead we have a private partisan militia called the Grayshirts who are amongst the good guys
Basically Britain doomed itself because of democracy, allowing the EastEnd rabble an equal vote. The House of commons is described as "effete", because elected politicians are pandering to populist will instead of leading the people.

SpoilerAt the end, the aristocracy restores itself as the natural ruling class. The Prince Regent seizes the radio waves and gives a five page speech announcing all the wonderful changes that shall make Britain great again. The power of the House of Lords is to be enhanced, and the Commons diminished. The position of Prime Minister is to be eliminated, and the monarch himself shall lead parliament as God intended.

Anybody ever read Atlas Shrugged? In that book, John Galt seizes the airwaves and disertates for 100 pages straight on the "virtue of selfishness"! Basically Ayn Rand's own philosophy awkwardly expressed through the voice of one of her characters. This is the same thing, except that Wheatley is advocating a return to strong monarchy. At least the Prince Regent only goes on for five pages.

I almost thought I was reading satire, but a bit of online research tells me Wheatley was quite earnest  in the views he expressed.
But damn does he paint a vivid picture of civilization in collapse!

745

Re: Last Book Read...

Sallust becomes a lot more like Bond in the later books, cp. I'm sure we have a thread discussing that in the literature forum, but can't provide a link right now (will do later, unless someone beats me to it).

746

Re: Last Book Read...

I've got three more of Gregory Sallust adventures lines up on my shelf, Barbel, so I shall see.
Those books are hard to find, usually if I find Wheatley at all it's one of his occult novels.

I remember the thread you mention and shall look for it now.
I was deliberately avoiding it so as to form my own thoughts about the book, but I had to read up a bit on Wheatley as his wacky retro-politics were so fundamental to the plot I had to know if he was serious or not.

_______________________
EDIT: yes here it is, one of Silhouette Man's!

DOUBLE EDIT: following the links in that thread led me to this:
THE SECRET ORIGINS OF JAMES BOND, by Jeremy Duns
which argues Wheatley was more of an influence on Fleming than the usual "Clubland Heroes" writers usually cited. Duns was also the researcher who told us about the unused Ben Hecht script for Casino Royale!

Last edited by caractacus potts (28th May 2020 16:39)