Single and Single by John Le Carre

Splendid. To say it is his best later book is to damn it with faint praise. It is just a darn good example of what Le Carre does so well, writing about the English and the Russians. He lost his way when the Cold War lost its way. Here he is back in that world he understands and loves and it makes all the difference.

I see this book has underwhelmed many, but I fail to see why. Unreservedly recommended.

‘He’s a bastard’ says Oliver at one point. To which the Swiss banker replies:

“So what? We’re all bastards. Some bastards, they don’t even play chess.”

2 thoughts on “Single and Single by John Le Carre

  1. Agree fully w your review, this is an excellent effort, a top-notch plot, written expertly, wonderful characters, yet got so many middling reviews. I think other authors are dumbing it down — with results (so to speak; lotta people on goodreads read a lot of crap).

    Some great lines: ‘Seduced by the gun, he had briefly imagined it was just Hoban and himself alone here on the hilltop, face-to-face and nobody in earshot, a situation any lawyer expects to use to his advantage.’ Another great line (can’t find) compared the moonlight effect to a world in black-and-white.

    I also recommend to you Martin Cruz Smith, an author I hadn’t read since Gorky Park, a long (long) time ago. Picked up Havana Bay, and what a read, really do put him, and it, in le Carre land. Story and locale as good as it gets, with gems like this:

    ‘He lived in Miramar, the same area as the embassy, in an ocean-front hotel named the Sierra Maestra, which offered many of the features of a sinking freighter: listing balconies, rusted railings, a view of the water.’


    Nick Baam

    • I haven’t read any Martin Cruz Smith but I’m bound to pick one up in the open air book markets here in Geneva, so I’ll keep a look out. I suspect I saw the movie of Gorky Park, but long enough ago that yeah, ‘suspect’ is as close as I can get.

      I like the idea that his bad reviews are about dumbed down trends. I’ve picked up a couple of the Scandinavian writers who can do no wrong, if you believe everything you read, and been plain shocked by how bad they are. I wonder if it’s all going the same way as Mad Max Four which was written so that people who spoke almost no English could follow it without subtitles.

      Maybe the book world is going the same way. Certainly the Scandinavians seem to get by on short sentences and small English vocabs in translation which presumably suits a market of readers with limited English skills.

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