The end of le Carré

A Delicate Truth

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingd...

Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1997-2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For hard core John le Carre fans, and I am one, the last fifteen years have been a succession of disappointments. The last novel he wrote that I enjoyed was Absolute Friends and the second half of that was dismal.

Reading other reviews of “A Delicate Truth” one might think that the corner has been turned and the master has returned to form. Well, I have to disagree.

Because, for me this latest novel is little better than an angry and incoherent rant from a frustrated political opponent of New Labour. This book is so bad it is difficult to know where to begin, but here are a few low lights:

  • Fergus Quinn: This “junior minister” is plainly meant to be some sort of John Reid character – an ex-Communist Blairite Scot. But Le Carre has no feel or understanding for the Labour Party and like much else in the book this character owes more to conspiracy theorists than real life. We are asked to believe that the evil Blairites were in league with the Republican far-right via super smooth public schoolboy smoothies. Nope. And before you scream back “George W Bush” from under your tin foil hat, he was the elected President of the United States: not a matter of choice for the British Prime Minister.
  • Kit Probyn: There appear to be two Kit Probyns in the book. The first we meet is a weak “low flyer” picked from Foreign Office obscurity to give Quinn some cover for his adventures with the US far right, the second is an ebullient old buffer with a Cornish manor house. Not believable.
  • Emily Probyn: Well le Carre has never been able to do women. I suppose that is one constant.
  • Toby Bell: Here le Carre attempts to form a hero who is not one of the public schoolboys he usually writes of – and fails. For Bell’s patina of un-privilege wears off very quickly and he is just like all the others – le Carre even has to have him inherit some money, presumably because that makes him easier to write.
  • Americanisms and the rest: whether this is sloppiness or laziness or simple commercial consideration, the book is damaged by the use of American-English in a book where only one American, briefly, speaks. Who in Britain calls a mobile a “cellphone” or talks of “real estate” instead of property? What is more nobody but nobody refers to Northern Ireland’s protestants as “prots” – the word, if it must be used, is “prod”. Le Carre should do a bit more research if he wants to write-in “ethnics” next time. Furthermore neither Gibraltar nor anywhere else has been a “Crown Colony” since 1981.

In the end we are asked to believe that today the UK is ruled by governments (of the current and two previous Prime Ministers) who routinely make their own citizens “disappear” into secret prisons (when they are not murdering them), not just tolerate others’ torture but authorise it themselves and believe they can break the law with absolute impunity and never get caught.

Now, this sort of world view is today quite popular in a country where nasty hard right anti-politics parties such as UKIP can do quite well. But le Carre – who once wrote so eloquently of the moral dilemmas facing democrats who stood against Communism – ought to be ashamed of giving it air time.