Thoughts and other Miscellany

Absolute Friends – John le Carré – 4/10 (DNF)

“Leaving the envelope to mature for a week or two, therefore, he waits until the right number of tequilas has brought him to the right level of insouciance, and rips it open.”

Ted Mundy, Pakistan-born English major’s son, Germanophile and student rebel, has just about settled into mediocrity at the British Council when a trip in his guise as head of Overseas Drama and Arts (particular responsibility: Youth) becomes an exercise in secret police evasion. A figure from his past appears and he is recruited into double agency.

I got to page 260 out of 400 of this. The first 200 pages were really promising – fascinating character development, a cold open that leaves us desperate to get back to it, great student riot atmosphere… and then we get into the spying proper and it bored me to anger. Seriously, I got so angry with the dull plot, dire characters and chronically self-indulgent writing (“redux” 4 times in 2 pages??) that I decided I would rather play Bubble Shooter on my phone than continue reading it. Scathing criticism indeed.

The writing is exceptional and so consistent that I struggled to find a quote for the top of this review and shan’t waste more time trying to find any more – rather than good writing with exceptional one-liners, this is excellent writing with an unfortunate dollop of smug. The page that finally made me lose my temper was one in which Ted was named “Mundy redux” 5 times over a double page. I don’t know what redux was supposed to mean, given that we are already so hopelessly entrenched in Ted’s multiple personalities, but it struck me as so pompous, so “I require my readers to have advanced degrees, otherwise they’re not good enough”, that I was genuinely angry.

The characters are impossible to relate to – Ted is dull, mediocre, apathetic; no wonder his wife finds someone else. Sasha is fiery and contrary, but implausibly so. And no one else gets much of a look-in, as this is about the two absolute friends and not anyone else. So character development for the support cast is woeful.

And as for the plot – Ted’s childhood: fascinating. Student days: engrossing. Berlin riot participation: page-turning. Settling into middle-class mediocrity in Britain/spying: urgh. Bubble Shooter was more exciting.

Additional info:
This was borrowed from my father, who loved it and thus we remain at odds with our usually well-aligned literary tastes.
Publisher: Coronet Books, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, 383 pages (paperback)
Order this from Amazon* 
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link; proceeds go towards giveaways.

4 thoughts on “Absolute Friends – John le Carré – 4/10 (DNF)”

  1. Early le Carre is much much better than the modern stuff – I can heartily commend all of the Cold War things – try Tinker Tailor, or the Spy who came in from the cold.

    BBC R4 did some fantastic (and accurate) dramatisations last year, with Simon Russell Beale (I think) as Smiley – I doubt they’re still on the iplayer but they are on audible, and make good audiobooks if you’re into that kind of thing.

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