Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Constant Gardener - John Le Carre

Every man wants to be a hero. That is why we are suckers for Swiss Army Knives and credit card tools that open bottles and cut cheese: it’s about being the man that saves the day.
Sandy Woodrow, Head of Chancery, British High Commission, Nairobi, hero on page one. He is the man who took the phone call. He is the man who confirmed the details. He is the man who squashed his own feelings to break the bad news to Justin. He is the man! He thinks he is a hero – and thus he is not.
Justin Quayle, “Good of you to tell me, Sandy. Can’t have been pleasant.” - old-school foreign service, never quite lived up to expectations - would have been his wife’s hero, except that she is dead. In le Carré’s Nairobi, foreign service wives have lunch, gossip molehills in to mountains and fawn over their husband’s widowed colleagues to compensate for not being allowed to work. Tessa Abbott, Justin’s wife – an aristocratic, idealistic lawyer who lost her baby and wanted to do more to make the world a better place than let her husband do it – campaigned against illegal medical experiments instead. She named names, she trusted the system, her system, she took on the big boys and she lost.
Losing his wife drove Justin Quayle to apply his skills of selflessness, honed over years of faithful service to queen and country, to becoming his dead wife’s hero. He is quiet, strong, resourceful and clever – he surprises himself, as well as Sandy Woodrow and us.
Le Carré mastered heroes in his day job, when he was a spy. Take away his various superb characters, black and white plots that end-up technicolour, exotic locations, politics and secrets and The Constant Gardener, like all Le Carré, is about truth. Not facts: people - those who are true against those who are weak, and thus dangerous. And Le Carré writes them as elegantly as Peter O’Toole rides a bicycle.
The English Summer can be the enemy of book club – distracting readers with Pimms, picnics and boats, and things. So too are long books, made longer by needing to perform fugacity calculations on your neighbours’ luggage at each tube stop, which is why only three of the six clubbers that turned up had finished the book. But book club’s greatest enemy is a book like this. Excellent books give us nothing to argue about, so we had three people wanting to agree, but not in too much detail in case it spoils it for the others.
A Constant Gardener is about to be released as a film, and one thing that you do not have to finish the book to understand is that it will be a great film. Ralph Feinnes and the flashback, jump cut narrative will work brilliantly on screen.
So: dull club, great book, looking forward to the film.

Who: John Le Carre - Coronet
What: The Constant Gardener
When: July 2005
Where: London
Why: It's superb
Why not: It might spoil the movie for you
How much: £6.99 (paperback)


Post a Comment

<< Home