Published posthumously, this novel of secret service loyalty and treachery is a fine addition to the le Carré canonIf a posthumously discovered novel is enough to set a conspiracy theorist’s antennae twitching, they’ll be wobbling like deely boppers when the novelist in question is the spymaster himself. But conspiracy theorists, while alert to the complex and absurd, are notoriously blind to the obvious. John le Carré was a working writer, producing a book every couple of years, and it would have been a surprise if he’d died leaving a clear desk. And it’s not as if he had reason to hang up his pen. While alive to the dangers of a novelist outstaying their welcome – he cited Graham Greene in that regard – his output remained consistently robust. If the late novels are slenderer and less layered than those he produced 30 or 40 years ago, they are also angrier and more politically engaged. He still had much to say. As for the complaint, occasionally heard, that in later life he wrote nothing as groundbreaking as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, or as formidably comprehensive as the Karla trilogy, he might with some justification reply – à la Joseph Heller – “Who did?”The only important question, then, is: is Silverview any good? Thankfully, the answer is yes. A shaky start aside – the opening scene doesn’t really earn its place in the novel – the book settles down eight pages in, and for one last time we’re in le Carré’s familiar world: its themes, its principals, its impeccable style. Our hero is one Julian Lawndsley, a young man in flight from a City career, taking over a bookshop in an East Anglian seaside town despite having a blank canvas where a literary hinterland should be – he has never heard of Sebald or Chomsky. He has an early encounter with Edward Avon, a man “as mad as a flute”, who has plans for Julian and his bookshop basement, where he proposes they establish a “Republic of Literature”. Edward, the pivot on which Silverview swivels, is married to Deborah, a noted Arabist and one-time big wheel in the British intelligence service. She lies dying in the house for which the book is named. Edward’s own spook career, and the murky circumstances in which it ended, come to light as the service’s head of domestic security, Stewart Proctor – “Proctor the Doctor” – starts to pick away at his past while investigating a leak of classified information. Continue reading…

Published posthumously, this novel of secret service loyalty and treachery is a fine addition to the le Carré canon

If a posthumously discovered novel is enough to set a conspiracy theorist’s antennae twitching, they’ll be wobbling like deely boppers when the novelist in question is the spymaster himself. But conspiracy theorists, while alert to the complex and absurd, are notoriously blind to the obvious. John le Carré was a working writer, producing a book every couple of years, and it would have been a surprise if he’d died leaving a clear desk. And it’s not as if he had reason to hang up his pen. While alive to the dangers of a novelist outstaying their welcome – he cited Graham Greene in that regard – his output remained consistently robust. If the late novels are slenderer and less layered than those he produced 30 or 40 years ago, they are also angrier and more politically engaged. He still had much to say. As for the complaint, occasionally heard, that in later life he wrote nothing as groundbreaking as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, or as formidably comprehensive as the Karla trilogy, he might with some justification reply – à la Joseph Heller – “Who did?”

The only important question, then, is: is Silverview any good? Thankfully, the answer is yes. A shaky start aside – the opening scene doesn’t really earn its place in the novel – the book settles down eight pages in, and for one last time we’re in le Carré’s familiar world: its themes, its principals, its impeccable style. Our hero is one Julian Lawndsley, a young man in flight from a City career, taking over a bookshop in an East Anglian seaside town despite having a blank canvas where a literary hinterland should be – he has never heard of Sebald or Chomsky. He has an early encounter with Edward Avon, a man “as mad as a flute”, who has plans for Julian and his bookshop basement, where he proposes they establish a “Republic of Literature”. Edward, the pivot on which Silverview swivels, is married to Deborah, a noted Arabist and one-time big wheel in the British intelligence service. She lies dying in the house for which the book is named. Edward’s own spook career, and the murky circumstances in which it ended, come to light as the service’s head of domestic security, Stewart Proctor – “Proctor the Doctor” – starts to pick away at his past while investigating a leak of classified information.

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