Le Carre in Russian Eyes
John Le Carré’s faithful followers in this country have found the master at the top of his form in his most recent novel, The Night Manager.1 This, however, is a curious thing, for as more than one observer has had occasion to note over the last few years, the whole genre of the spy novel is in trouble, le Carré included. Without the cold war, the Soviet Union, and East Germany, and with the CIA out of the picture, what is there to write about? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? For a little while, South Africa may have seemed to offer fruitful ground for writers of a “progressive” bent, and then there was always Israel. But the South Africans have mended their ways, and as for Israel-as-bad-guy, no one has much wanted to be associated, even by implication, with that nation’s all-too-real and all-too-unpleasant enemies, from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the heirs of Khomeini in Iran to Islamic fundamentalists all over the Middle East.
Some ten years ago, after the publication of The Little Drummer Girl, I took note in COMMENTARY of the excessive praise being heaped on le Carré (in America, not in England).2 Some critics were comparing him favorably with Balzac and Stendhal, while others hailed him as one of the great moral and political philosophers of our time, and a psychologist of rare depth. To me, although I considered le Carré among the more skillful practitioners of his genre, such claims seemed ludicrous. And above all, perhaps, his political judgments struck me as, to put it mildly, ill-informed. True, most spy writers have preposterous politics, but by and large they do not expect to be taken seriously; le Carré, by contrast, was a man of large intellectual pretensions.
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