I began this reading period with a failure. I had obtained “The Bourgeois Virtues“, the first part of an economic history trilogy by Deirdre N. McCloskey. However, I realised quite quickly that I just could not handle 1,500 pages of densely argued apologia for bourgeois capitalism, written with an arrogant certainty of its ethical superiority. I threw in the towel at page 27.
Thankfully, my fall back was John Le Carre’s “The Naive and Sentimental Lover” (1971). This is his only non-genre novel and a superb piece of storytelling. According to a brief note in Wikipedia, this tells the fictionalised story of Le Carre’s relationship with another writer and his wife during Le Carre’s divorce from his own wife. It is about double the page count of his earlier novels, and covers a lot of ground that was familiar to me from my own knowledge of London and the West Country of my youth. This is not straightforward narrative, playing with time and location, and with elements, I thought, of magic realism. It engaged me on several levels and I found it a marvelous read.
I then moved on to “Sudden Death” (2013) by Alvaro Enrigue, which I covered in more detail in an earlier post.
Next up was Len Deighton’s second novel, “Horse Under Water” (1963). This is much more tightly written and plotted than his first, but full of stereotypical characters. However, our working class hero has become a more James Bond-like figure who argues with Cabinet Ministers, harangues Ambassadors, orders NATO staff to launch jets, and gets the girl(s). It is still full of excellent local detail (both about London and, in this case, southern Portugal), especially about food. One interesting point is that, written in 1963, it has a very different view of “the drug problem” than we see today. Cocaine is not considered a Western problem at all, and cannabis comes from Morocco and the Middle East — South America is not even mentioned. The big problem as Deighton sees it at that date is heroin. However, he does have a major character state that marijuana will be made legal and taxable “in five years” — say the late 1960s. Perceptive, but about 45 years in advance of reality.
And now for something completely different: “Vancouver Is Ashes: The Great Fire of 1886” by Lisa Anne Smith (2014). Ms. Smith has scoured the contemporary accounts, and Major Matthews’ detailed interviews, to create what is essentially an eye-witness account of the fire that destroyed Vancouver. The use of direct quotes and small anecdotes produces a lively narrative, which the author expands judiciously. Well worth the quick read.
Back to Le Carre, this time for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. This is an odd one. It is Le Carre in full control, as Smiley is obliged to re-imagine the recent past of the Department in order to track down a high-placed Russian mole. It is odd because I read this already knowing their are two more in the Karla trilogy, and thus the ambiguities remain at the end of this volume. It is also odd because it is in this volume that the author rewrites the bios of several important characters, including Smiley himself from what they have been in earlier books. Most emphatically, Smiley’s marriage to Ann — which we learn from each of the previous books lasted just two years before she ran off with an Argentinian race driver — has unfortunately survived all the years, and they live in a brutally unsatisfactory relationship.While recognising how well it is put together, I did not find this as engrossing as earlier stories.
And I finished the month off with Robert Galbraith’s third outing “Career of Evil“. I did a brief review on the first two Cormoran Strike novels some while ago. This is J.K. Rowling in her detective fiction role, and damn good she is at it too. She has interesting plots, with multiple sub-plots about personal; relationships, and a clear ear for the interior monologues that describe motive and reasoning. I like the Galbraith style and I look forward to the next.
The VPL loan system (a community treasure) has caught up with me and I start August with five books on my desk, and more expected next week. Looks like another busy reading month ahead!