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October 07, 2008
A Most Wanted Man: John le Carré. Hodder & Stoughton RRP £18-99
John Le Carré
In general I like the works of John le Carré. Some of the post cold war ones that I've read have provided interesting insights into what is going on behind the scenes as countries and alliances have repositiond themselves in the new global order. Le Carré manages a global take with books such as The Constant Gardner and The Tailor of Panama dealing with Africa and South America respectively. He always comes up with quirky characters who are to some extent marginal to what would be considered as the mainstream of society and A Most Wanted Man is no different to this.
In the reviews referenced below I thought that the Financial Times one by Gilbert Adair was a little harsh. Adair who has written a book on style was applying his insights to A Most Wanted Man in ways which I thought were a little inappropriate. I don't buy Le Carré novels because I think they are great literature but because I think they are an intelligent and good read. For me they are a holiday read or if I'm feling ill. There are usually one or two good insights and occassionally there are some fine cutting comments. One character in a security conference in this latest offering sharply hits the US Post- 9/11 attitudes to human rights comparing the previous rights to proper legal representation and the post 9/11 situation where the accused is not even informed about what they are accused of. In this sense Le Carré is keeping himself and his readers up to date and he does take the trouble to research the background properly.
As usual characters are flawed, inconsistent, vulnerable, veer between noble aspirations and baser instincts in ways which might not be terribly logical but are human and it is these insights into human fraility where Le Carré is often at his best. The story itself gently builds towards a climax which quietly flagged yet is is still surprising and a little shocking for it places the participating countries in a clear hierarchy, and there are no guesses as to which one is in the driving seat.
The key characters revolve around Issa a half Chechen Russian illegal immigrant into Germany, Brue the owner of a small and quietly fading British private bank with its only branch in Hamburg and Annabel the idealistic lawyer who works for sanctuary an organisation which deals with problems for immigrants many of whom are of Muslim origin and who seek citizenship in Germany. The plot centres upon the claiming of the so-called Lipizzaner accounts which represent a dark past in the Bank's history. Lipizzaner refers to the famous Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School which has always been based in Vienna. The horses are born dark and gradually turn grey although they look white. This is a clear reference to the secret accounts held by the bank:
Gray horses, including Lipizzans, are born dark—usually bay or black—and become lighter each year as the graying process takes place, with the process being complete at between 6 and 10 years of age. Contrary to popular belief, Lipizzans are not actually true horses.A white horse is born white, has pink skin and usually has blue eyes. (Wikipedia extract on the Lipizzan Breed)
It is not Le Carré's best book and, as Joan Smith points out in the Independent review, the character of Annabel could have been more developed but then so could Issey's. Certainly the novel acts as a strong critique of American blundering in its treatment of Islam and the Islamic world post 9/11 and is all the bettr for that. I don't think followers of Le Carré will be disappointed and the novel comes recommended with the proviso that it is not amongst his strongest, nevertheless I enjoyed it.