28 March 2009

Book Review: The Night Manager by John le Carré

What’s in a Name? 2 Challenge #3

The Night Manager In a hotel foyer in Switzerland, night manager Jonathan Pine comes face to face with Richard Onslow Roper. Dicky Roper is the worst man in the world - or so Jonathan was told in Cairo by a woman named Sophie, shortly before Roper had her killed. In London, Leonard Burr and his small intelligence agency have their eye on Roper, and Burr’s agency likes to take a hands-on approach. Because of his army background, his lack of ties, and his prior connection to Roper, Jonathan is the perfect candidate for recruitment. Burr and his team will set up a series of events which will lead to Roper feeling very well-disposed toward Jonathan, and in return will receive the information they need to nail Roper for a massive drugs-for-arms trade he’s planning. Roper gets a jail term, Jonathan gets a new identity, and almost everybody’s happy.

Or that’s the plan until things start going wrong. An informant vanishes. Jonathan is taken to Roper’s island hideaway and installed as a well-kept prisoner. The Pure Intelligence powers that be decide that such a large operation should not be left in the hands of such a small agency, and suddenly the men who devised the plan can’t find out anything about it. Burr’s colleague Rex Goodhew is going in fear of his life, and Burr’s man in the field is in danger of losing his, the more so as he’s having a hard time keeping his thoughts off Roper’s girl. If Jonathan’s wits can’t save him, Burr’s last-ditch scheme will have to.

Not quite a quarter of the way through the year, and I am already halfway through this challenge! (We’ll just ignore the fact that I haven’t started a single book for several other challenges...) Not only did I enjoy The Night Manager, I also succeeded in keeping track of all the turns of the plot and finished it devoid of the post-le Carré confusion from which I often suffer. Which is not to say that it’s straightforward; just that the convolution is manageable. I liked Jonathan and hoped he’d emerge relatively unscathed and perhaps with the girl to boot (though I couldn’t entirely understand what he saw in Jemima, besides the obvious). Such an ending never seemed likely, as the villains consisted of not only Roper and company but all the desk-bound espiocrats who were perfectly happy to sacrifice Jonathan to secure their own ends. Not one of them was intrinsically evil; they just happened to have aims which put them at odds with the forces of law and order. One of the things I most enjoyed was seeing Burr and Goodhew launch themselves into cunning and creative action in order to save their operation.

I also loved the fact that the characters had such distinct manners of speaking. This is something I’ve seen advised in a lot of articles I’ve read about writing, but I’ve seen few such clear examples. But I think my favourite part was the ending - all loose ends tied up, but nothing simple about it.

Rating: B+

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776