Tuesday, November 30

Silverview Review by John le Carré: The Ultimate Complete Masterpiece? | John le Carré

WWhile it may be true that posthumous posts by the recently deceased tend to be more or less peer-proof, the good news is that Silverview, the twenty-sixth novel by John le Carré, who died last December at the age of 89, offers much to enjoy and admire. Crisp prose, a precisely crafted plot, the intoxicating feel of an inside track in a gloomy world … all your usual pleasures are here, though it can’t be ignored that they’re not always in sync.

An independent spy story, it takes place in an East Anglian seaside town, apparently in the late 2000s (not specified), where 33-year-old Julian, tired of life working in the city, showed up, wealthy in capital, to open a bookstore. . He’s barely up and running when a regular customer, or at least a navigator, calls him Edward, a mysterious retiree in a fedora who calls himself “one of life’s odd jobs” and says a once met Julian’s father. , a disgraced vicar who left his family mired in debt.

When Julian gets his hands on an old letter postmarked from Belgrade and received by his father, who despite his noisy lifestyle seems to have kept a good archive, Edward’s surprising story seems to be proven. “But what the hell were you doing in Belgrade?” Julian asks: “You must have been sitting there in the middle of the Bosnian war …” The intrigue grows and before long we have more than one reason to wonder why Edward should ask Julian to bring a sealed envelope to a woman in London. .

Only by turning Julian into a self-reported background pack, le Carré manages – almost – to suspend our disbelief about his willingness to accept this request; Unable to afford college, Julian suffers from low-rise impostor syndrome (he’s grateful for Edward’s suggestion that he should stock up on WG Sebald, whom he’s never heard of) and recognizes, too, his subconscious desire for a father figure.

But this is a novel of two halves. The narrative alternates between Julian and Proctor, a middle-aged British ghost tasked, a la Smiley, with sniffing out the source of a leak. If the book’s emotional influence rests heavily on Julian’s thread, its most gripping moments emerge from Proctor, most notably a lengthy central scene during which, tracing a clue, he interviews a husband-and-wife spy duo in Somerset. .

If that doesn’t sound particularly exciting, it is testament to le Carré’s untouched gifts that the scene – essentially a sizable information dump session designed to fill in the blanks – unfolds with maximum pace and tension. Part of the enjoyment, no doubt, lies in the perennial chill of jargon: all those “treffs” and “joes,” not to mention Le Carré’s handling of 20th-century geopolitical history. But there’s also fun from his quirky biting workplace comedy style, with a joke resigned to his portrayal of old men with empty nests forever chained to work.

Regardless, you can’t help but notice that the most persuasive parts of the story involve the cold war machinations of le Carré’s salad days; As the plot traces a confusing constellation between communist Poland, the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the fighting in Palestine, the story becomes more confused, even as its ambivalence about the motives and consequences of British foreign policy emerges loud and clear. .

Finally, Silverview is triggered as a cat and mouse chase narrative, with the novel’s dual perspective that places us in the control room, one step ahead of the characters, capable of seeing the larger image, albeit highly pixelated down to the final pages. Such are the layers of irony that it is easy to forget that the sting in the tale was already delivered in advance, in an enigmatic opening devoid of vital context. Suffice it to say that, in the typically masculine world of le Carré’s fiction, the decisive act this time revolves around the grieving filial loyalty between mother and daughter.

If we are left hanging at the end, there is a sort of additional mockery in the billing of the novel as le Carré’s “last complete masterpiece”, on the strong side no doubt, but a label that nonetheless offers the perspective of rougher treasures. waiting for the light.

Silverview by John le Carré is published by Viking (£ 20). To support the guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


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