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Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré

18 October 2019

From The Guardian:

John le Carré’s novels contain flurries of physical activity – moodily described surveillance, dead-letter drops, the very occasional shooting – but the real action is always two people talking in a room. Even the most apparently innocuous dialogue may be coded and ambiguous, serving two opposed purposes simultaneously: one meaning for the secret grey listeners, who in le Carré’s world are always assumed to be paying attention, and another meaning altogether for the participants. It is dramatic chamber music, in which mere conversation provides all the suspense and slow-dawning revelation you could want at any scale.

His new novel contains several delicious set pieces of this kind, and each time one gets going there is the sense of a master enjoying himself hugely: the characters themselves seem to become cleverer and wittier as their puppeteer’s dialogic invention takes flight. It can sometimes seem, indeed, as though the rest of the book comprises merely the stuff that has to be efficiently moved into place, just so, in order that these charged conversations become possible.

The publicity for Agent Running in the Field has emphasised the fact that this is le Carré’s Brexit novel, and so it is, laced with fury at the senseless vandalism of Brexit and of Trump, and the way the one is driving Britain into the clammy embrace of the other. Cunningly, though, le Carré wrong-foots the reader to a degree by making the character who is a mouthpiece for this criticism a rather annoying, monomaniacal, friendless geek. This is the twentysomething Ed, who befriends our narrator at his badminton club and then, after their weekly games, discourses furiously on the state of the world.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Non-US

5 Comments to “Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré”

  1. Given that we don’t want PV overrun by pro and anti Brexit posts I probably should show more self restraint and say nothing, especially about a post in the Guardian. That paper is always going to bring a strongly political commitment to the subject, and will typically bring up the obligatory and silly Trump reference (something I’ve often noticed in American commentary where it normally indicates an at best superficial understanding of the subject).

    However, I think it needs to be said that the whole discussion – on both sides – is driven by irrational and emotional thought, and where the anti-Brexit side frequently seems to have a delusional view of and utopian commitment to this multi national organisation. There are also, of course, plenty of delusions on the pro Brexit side. At the same time there is a demonization of and the attribution of bad motives to the other side which reminds me of what I see in American political discussions and ensures that there can be no meeting of minds.

    Logic, rational thought and an analysis of what the EU actually does rather than what it might do and the ability to understand the other side’s arguments are almost entirely missing.

    If one can escape all the emotion it is not hard to see that it really does not matter that much whether or not the UK is a member of the EU. The great majority of the world’s nations are not and thrive (or fail) outside the Union. EU membership has both advantages and disadvantages and these vary between the long and the short term and are hard to evaluate: plenty of people who should know better trot out forecasts that GDP will be changed by X% after N years but these same people cannot correctly forecast GDP for the next six months. Given the huge waste of time and the bitterness and divisions generated it would probably have been better had Brexit never won the referendum but it would also have been better if the UK had never joined in the first place as membership has never been fully accepted and has given us many years of political disputes.

    Oddly enough I think that the one thing that would have made the EU more acceptable to its opponents in the UK would have been if the pro UE politicians had shown more restraint. An EU in which the Lisbon Treaty had been rejected because pro EU politicians decided to respect the electorate’s reluctance rather than ram it through because they were sure that they were right would have been less likely to have lost the referendum.

    • Sorry for all the bold text. After I had edited my post the bold lasted for only one phrase and the rest appeared as un-bolded on screen once I had saved the edit. However, checking back I have just found that the edit has vanished – maybe it will come back again and this comment will just seem odd. This is the second “vanished edit” that has happened to me today and I guess it is more evidence that PG’s theme is showing its age.

    • The democracy deficit, yes.

      A lot of the stronger euroskepticism stems from that period.
      What most people fail to recognize (somthing both Scotland and Catalonia need to consider) is the EU is a federation of Governments, not peoples. It responds to the interests of the governments and elites, not the citizens. Because of that there is a fair amount of skepticism and bitterness across the entire union that the individual governments are expected to control and are pressured to do so to tamp down secessionism.
      The intent within the EU has always been to make the exit as painful as possible and seem worse than it would be to prevent recurrences. This was publicly stated early on.
      Which is silly.
      The UK has always been a dissenter in a lot of EU initiatives and without it the FrancoGerman “consensus” will have a much freer hand to move their agenda forward. Especially in the military arena.
      Killing the exit at this stage will benefit no one; they’re just creating the worst of all worlds.

      It seems self-destructive politics aren’t just a NorthAmerican trend.

      From tbe outside, I just wish they would settle in quick so I’ll know how it affects world buikding. 😉

  2. For just a moment there I thought le Carre had taken up painting, for “Agent Running in the Field” sounds like a watercolor in muted hues. I imagined a literary agent, pockets overstuffed with money looted from authors, running across a flowery field to the open embrace of a hoary publisher.

    • Good thing I wasn’t drinking anything when I read that.

      Of course, my vision of the painting shows loose bills streaming out of the agent’s pockets as he runs…away from a pair of pursuing gendarmes.

      But alas that kind of story would be more Donald Westlake era than LeCarre.

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