What I’m reading: John Le Carre’s last novel



Despite it’s James Bond-ish title, this is very much not John Le Carré’s send-up of Goldfinger. Unless he left some notes or incomplete manuscripts for somebody else to knock into shape (hopefully not), Silverview is the final novel from Mr Le Carré. Initially I found it a bit tiresome and undeserving of the glowing reviews with which it’s prefaced. But after going back and starting again I can see what an appropriate ‘swansong’ it is.

A Polish émigré called Edward Avon is at the heart of the story. City high-flier Julian Lawndsley, who has retreated to an unnamed seaside village to open a bookshop, finds that Edward is a neighbour with knowledge of Julian’s father’s secrets. And Stewart Proctor, a middle-ranking figure in MI6, is investigating an intelligence leak that seems to point to Edward.

Proctor is a blatant clone of George Smiley, our favourite spy chief (Proctor even has a faithless wife), and there’s more than one female with strong echoes of Connie Sachs, which makes Silverview read a bit like a pastiche of the author’s most famous works. Some of the scenes of marital life recall The Naive and Sentimental Lover (my least favourite of his books); and they come with an acerbic tone reminiscent of Muriel Spark and Fay Weldon. Le Carré switches erratically between past and present tense, sometimes in the same paragraph, which many readers will surely find annoying. The book has a surprising but entirely appropriate ending.

Silverview lacks the magisterial tone of the Smiley books and some of the later polemical novels, but it does serve to remind us that this was one of the finest writers of his time, producing – like Graham Greene, with whom Le Carré was always compared – novel after novel that illuminated the bitter betrayals of the spy-world and of the human heart. All Le Carré’s books seem to convey, vividly, that sense that – against great odds – ‘Look, we have come through.’ RIP.

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