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review 2018-09-29 13:14
Calvinist at Prayer: "Our Kind of Traitor" by John Le Carré
Our Kind of Traitor - John le Carré

(original review, 2010)

About a third of the way through “Our Kind of Traitor”, I sat back and reflected on the elegance of the prose and the grace and ease with which the narrative moved back and forth through time, and two words came inescapably to mind: Joseph Conrad. I can't believe, after all the le Carré novels I had already read at that point, that this was the first time the comparison ever occurred to me, but there it is.


If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-06-17 17:17
Our Kind of Traitor
Our Kind of Traitor - John le Carré

Our kind of Traitor starts with a young couple on holiday in Antigua, who are introduced by the resident tennis pro to a man called Dima.

Little do they know that a random (or is it?) acquaintance at a tennis court will change their lives.

The next thing we know is that the couple is being interviewed by the Secret Service about every detail of their meeting with Dima. 


Without taking away much of the plot - which is rather thin as it is - there were elements of this book that reminded me of The Russia House, which in my estimation is still the best le Carre book I have read. And this is probably the most flattering thing I can say about Our Kind of Traitor.


However, those elements were far and few between. 


I liked the writing and the jumping from one perspective to another, but the story dragged. Badly. There is little gripping action in this - tho, if you're looking for action, don't pick up le Carre in the first place - and the suspense is mostly built on the question of whether the "transaction" will be made or not. This is not a lot to go on over 300 pages.


The description of how the characters change over the course of the events helps with the lack of plot, and le Carre's characters themselves are infinitely more rounded and enjoyable than those of many other spy thrillers, but, overall, this was not as satisfying a read as The Constant Gardner, The Russia House, The Tailor of Panama, or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. (I'm not a huge fan of the Smiley series...)

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text 2018-06-16 13:55
Reading progress update: I've read 103 out of 307 pages.
Our Kind of Traitor - John le Carré

This reminds me of The Russia House, but it is not drawing me in as completely as TRH. Also, I could really do with a catalyst to the plot right now. 


Saying that, I love the parallel plot telling of the relationship between Perry and Gail.

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review 2018-06-11 20:13
"The Traitor's Story" by Kevin Wignall - ten hours of my life I'll never get back
The Traitor's Story - Kevin Wignall

I picked "The Traitor's Story" as one of my Summer Of Spies books because it's about British spies but it's set in Lausanne, a city I know well.


The first disappointment was the narrator: Simon Vance. Yes, I know he's an award-winning narrator, but I found his plumy Brit accent irritating, especially as he delivered the story with all the vocal range and passion of Gregorian Chant. He also sounded too old for the main character in the book. Still, his delivery was news-reader clear and unhalting so I decided to try and tune him out and let the book stand on its text.


The text itself was the next disappointment. The prose is sparse without being lean: functional in that put-me-out-of-my-misery-and-give-me-the-movie version sort of way. There where many exotic European locations, most of which I know well and yet there was almost no sense of place.


The characterisation ranged from the cute (which means bad things are bound to happen to them) to the dispassionate (which might even be appropriate given that the main character is a hollow, desiccated man whose only distinguishing characteristics seem to be emotional withdrawal and a willingness to kill). I quickly realised that I didn't really care what happened to any of these people.


For a while, I thought the plot might come to the rescue as it ran two timelines in parallel which suggested that we were heading for an interesting convergence at some point. The plot was well constructed but completely unsurprising. In fact, the only surprising thing about this book was that the main character has been able to afford to live in Lausanne for six years of the proceeds of writing a few popular history books.


The final confrontation between the bad guy and the slightly less bad guy who was the Traitor of the title summed up my feelings about the book. The hero looks at the destruction he has wrought and asks

"But what was the point of final words between them? What had been the point of any of it?"

Sadly, the book lumbered on for another couple of chapters to wrap up loose ends I no longer cared about and to make a belated and unsuccessful effort to convince me that our hero might still have a chance of living a worthwhile life.


I'm done with Kevin Wignall and Simon Vance.


On the off chance that you can hear something in Simon Vance's performance that I missed, you can click on the SoundCloud link below to play a sample.


[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/270059970" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

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text 2018-06-09 21:23
Reading progress update: I've read 20%. - dryly British - or perhaps that's just the narrator
The Traitor's Story - Kevin Wignall

This is my second "Summer Of Spies" book. I picked it up because it's set near where I live in Switzerland and involves a retired British spy. I suspect we have a few of them around here.


So far the plot is intriguing but I feel very little sympathy for the main character who seems rather arid. That effect is probably amplified by Simon Vance's narration. He's so even-toned he's only a beat or two away from Gregorian Chant.

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