Book review: ‘Silverview’, by John le Carré


In the world of Le Carré’s clever ploys, the question is not just whether they will work, but whether they will be worth it. At one point, Proctor visits former Edward managers Joan and Philip, now retired and weakened, but once the golden couple in MI6. Old spies are portrayed as decent people who, at the end of their lives, realize that their life’s work has accomplished nothing. “We haven’t done much to change the course of human history, have we? Philip said to Stewart regretfully. “As one old spy over another, I think I would have been more useful to run a boys’ club.” This notion that a small step separates a futile life from an effective life is another concern of Le Carré.

Typically, Le Carré’s narrative warheads are housed in its endings. The novels are patiently constructed until a final explosion, leaving readers with a greater sense of dismay than triumph. Ends, for Le Carré, were accounts. This slender volume (a little over 200 pages) ends, rather abruptly, but it lacks what Le Carré has taught us to expect from an end. One may wonder, in fact, if he had quite succeeded in finishing the book. He started writing it about ten years ago, then put it aside to write his memoir, “The Pigeon Tunnel”. And while “Silverview” is said to be his last completed novel, it’s obviously not the last he’s been working on. In an afterword, the son of author Nick Cornwell (who usually writes as Nick Harkaway) speculates that his father was reluctant to publish “Silverview” because he “does something that no other Square novel does. never did. He shows a fragmented service: filled with his own political factions, not always kind to those he should cherish … and ultimately not sure, either, of being able to justify himself.

In fact, Le Carré’s greatest character, George Smiley, had his agency rivals – factionalism is not new – and the moral equivalence not of causes but of methods was a central theme in The square. The protagonist of “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold”, Alec Leamas, is a case of burnout who sees spies, whether allies or adversaries, as simply “a sordid procession of idle fools, traitors too. “. Give a con man convictions and bureaucracy, the Square seemed to suggest, and you get the intelligence establishment, with every human relationship seen as an asset or a vulnerability.

This is why Le Carré’s greatest interrogation scenes are always self-interrogations. And while “Silverview” feels less than fully performed, its sense of moral ambivalence remains exquisitely calibrated. Besides, novelists of the stature of Le Carré are not diminished by their slightest efforts; Henry James ended his career not with his masterful “The Golden Bowl” but the dark scheme “The Outcry”. The Republic of Literature has room for both.


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