Tessa Quayle-young, beautiful, and dearly beloved to husband Justin-is gruesomely murdered in northern Kenya. When Justin sets out on a personal odyssey to uncover the mystery of her death, what he finds could make him not only a suspect but also a target for Tessa's killers.
A master chronicler of the betrayals of ordinary people caught in political conflict, John le Carré portrays the dark side of unbridled capitalism as only he can. In The Constant Gardener he tells a compelling, complex story of a man elevated through tragedy as Justin Quayle-amateur gardener, aging widower, and ineffectual bureaucrat-discovers his own natural resources and the extraordinary courage of the woman he barely had time to love.
***2018 Summer of Spies***
So its summer, finally and at last, here in the Great White North. It’s time for some summer fun reading about espionage! This is my first venture into Le Carré’s work and I enjoyed it.
I had expected a rather light & frothy thriller and instead I got a serious examination of big pharma—its use of the unfortunate as test subjects and its desire to put profit well ahead of human kindness. Also explored is the nature of colonialism in Kenya, reminding me a bit of The Poisonwood Bible. Heavy subjects for a popular novel!
I also got a reminder on the nature of marriage—those of us on the outside of a marriage really have no idea what’s happening on the inside. On the outside, Sandy and Gloria Woodrow look like the stable, steady couple and Justin and Tessa Quayle look like a precarious, unmatched union. The book begins from Sandy Woodrow’s point of view and quickly disabuses the reader of the notion that his marriage is solid. Woodrow’s constant search for sex outside his marriage was tiresome and it was a relief when I reached the point where Le Carré switched to Justin’s POV. There we discover that, far from being unstable, Justin and Tessa trusted and loved each other a great deal.
Thereafter followed the labyrinthine machinations that I had been expecting. Who knows what, who is hiding something, what can be done about it all? I can definitely see why The Guardian lists it as one of their 1000 recommended books.
On the face of it, I should love this novel: spies, cabaret, a setting that is an alternative take on the Weimar Republic... What's not to love, right?
However, the book just isn't working for me. I've tried to read this several times, but just get lost in the endless names and descriptions that seem to lead nowhere.
This morning, I spent a good hour and a half trying one last time if there was a way to get into the story, but all I am left with is a hankering for some original1920s/30s literature with its roots firmly placed in the Weimar Republic.
I'm not rating the book. I have a clear suspicion that it is not the book's fault that I prefer something closer to a feeling of authenticity than a pastiche any day.
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...)