“I have always imagined that
Paradise will be a kind of Library”
Jorge Luis Borges
DIANE DE BEER
A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré (Viking):
It’s always a treat when a new John le Carré thriller makes its way onto your bookshelf and with a name like this one, which points to the kind of thrillers we first fell in love with like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, expectations are high.
It’s John le Carré , no less and writing about Smiley, Peter Guillam and a gang of familiar rogues.
But that was quite some time ago and yet, Le Carré manages to twist the past and the present together in a tangled web that takes serious attention to unravel.
Not only do you have to reach back a few decades when you last met up with all these characters but then you fast forward to not only a much older and craggier George, but his younger colleague Peter, who himself is retired on a farm in Brittany (he was half French and British), is the one who tells this particular tale.
And it’s some tale as you can imagine. It grabs hold of you right from the start and whirls you through another almost Cold War-style escapade that has you guessing from beginning to end.
It also takes you back to a time when the Cold War ended and everyone was wondering what would happen to writers like Le Carré who made that specific era their specialty. Not to worry though, he focused on that time because that was what we were living. But as astutely as he could dissect that period of time in the world, so he could move on to other issues that the powerful would latch onto as times moved on and political constructs shifted and changed.
At his age, (85!), it makes sense that he looks back but how smart to go to the past yet write about the current world. He pulls us back to a different time and place and points to the way time changes how we behave, what we think and how people and governments run their lives and their daily business.
Don’t think for a second that he lets the reader off the hook. If you were a fan of his earlier novels, you have aged with the author. You will have to grab hold of all those mental faculties to stay with this tale of espionage. It might come from a different age yet it is pulled quite abruptly into today’s world by two children who are on a path of vengeance for their parents who were killed on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall at that time.
It’s Le Carré genius. Not only does he give us the past and characters that we have met before, but it plays out today which gives him many different options to comment on the world as he sees it now. His is never a simple story to tell. There’s much more going on which keeps you on your toes and makes it even more intriguing.
So for those who wondered in the past whether he was going to have anything to write about post Cold War, he’s still at it and to my mind, even got to say quite clearly why Britain should be careful of breaking away from Europe.
This is not someone who has any problem with what or how he wants to write.
A Legacy of Spies is the perfect retro-hangover from someone who wanted to take leave of old friends. Fans will love it.