Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Absolute Friends

I have just finished reading Absolute Friends by John Le Carré. I don’t tend to read a lot of spy novels but thought that I would give this one a try. I thoroughly enjoyed it but would have to say that I was at a loss to understand what was going on for much of the time. This is, you understand, not a fault of Le Carré but a fault of mine. As far as I can ascertain the two main characters were not only spies but double agents and I believe double agents twice over unless I’m much mistaken. Does this make them quadruple agents? Then there were a host of other supporting characters who may or may not have also been spies and who may or may not have been double crossing them. Then there were the various shadowy groups that they were spying for, along with the multitude of ideologies supported and denounced which I think may or may not have been the reason for the spying taking place to begin with. Or perhaps not. (Phew!) Add to this not one but two love interests pertaining to one of the lead characters and some evocative descriptive passages and you have a great novel, just one which I struggled to follow from beginning to end. Is it just me as I fear it may be?

To be fair, by the end I was beginning to understand a bit more of what was going on, with the book’s denouncement of the war in Iraq and comment on the media portrayal of terrorism (I think). By that stage, however, it was a bit late for our two slightly hapless heroes but I will say no more in case you haven’t read it. If you haven’t read it you really should. It is a good book despite my confusion. As I’ve said, I think it’s just me.

Well things could be worse. I did finish it and I didn’t get past the first page of Ulysses, but anyone who claims to have finished that one is clearly lying.

11 comments:

Graeme said...

I read about one hundred pages of Ulysses. It's a beautifully written book, but I had no idea whatsoever about what was happening in it so I stopped reading it. I later bought a copy of Harry Blamires's commentary on Ulysses with the intent of reading the two side by side, but I never got around to it. The only people I know who have read the entire thing had taken a course on the book. Finnegan's Wake is even more incomprehensible. I can't be arsed to even consider trying that one.

Le Carre's books are often a bit complicated. The Little Drummer Girl, which is about a young English woman recruited by Israeli intelligence and then sort of kind of turned when she's sent to spy on Palestinians, reads like a study of schizophrenia. I liked Absolute Friends because it is about (kind of sort of) the radical left in the 60s and 70s and so it doesn't have the conservative bias that you often get with spy novels. That, and it's just a really good read.

You should give The Constant Gardener a try. I haven't seen the movie (people seem to think that it's good though) but the book is great.

The Good Woman said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds him confusing. I do read all his novels set in Africa though - for his political insight, and often beautiful descriptions of the places.

bethnoir said...

I managed half of Ulysees before the Irish friend who lent it to me wanted it back, when I was in it I loved it, but have not subsequently summoned up the energy to start again.
We're in a big Robert Crais phase in our house. He's more detective than spy, but lots of fun.
Hope you don't mind me commenting, after our banana discussion on Gari's page, I feel I know you!

Gwen said...

Hi Graeme. I have a huge amount of respect for you managing 100 pages of Ulysses. I can imagine that it would be necessary to take a course before starting to read the book. I certainly enjoyed the descriptive passages and the views expressed in Absolute Friends, just got a bit confused about what was happening the rest of the time. I have a copy of The Constant Gardener so will give that a try. Thanks for the recommendation. That's one thing I love about blogging - getting excellent recommendations for books, films, music and the like.

His political insight and descriptions are lovely aren't they Good Woman. Maybe if I read a few more I will find them less confusing. Here's hoping.

Hi Beth. I certainly don't mind you commenting on this post and I am very glad that you have done. Please do visit again. Like Graeme I have every respect for you having got through half of Ulysses.

I'll definitely look out for Robert Crais. Thanks for the recommendation Beth.

Stay at home dad said...

Actually I don't think it was you. I seem to remember that the reviews of Absolute Friends made much the same point...

Katie said...

I hate James Joyce with a passion. I read part of Ulysses then gave up when I realised I had no idea what was going on.

Valentine Suicide said...

I've never managed to finish a Le Carre let alone Ulysees, (though it's well documented I'm not too bright) so Gwen, you're ahead of the game!

Gwen said...

Thanks SAHD. That makes me feel a lot better.

I wonder if James Joyce knew what was going on in Ulysses Katie.

Thanks Valentine. Again, you have made me feel a bit better. I really did think that it was just me. I'm on to Michael Chabon now which shoudl prove a little easier I hope.

Graeme said...

What Michael Chabon book are you reading? I haven't read him, but that new one about Yiddish policemen looks really good and has been getting fantastic reviews.

Gwen said...

Hi Graeme. It's Wonder Boys. I started it a while back and really enjoyed it but didn't finish it properly. This was more to do with circumstances than the book. I really enjoy his lyrical but witty dry style so I'm back to start it again now. I have also got Kavalier and Clay which I will read soon. The reviews for his new book have been excellent and I was thinking only this morning that I must make a point of getting it too. I would definitely recommend his books to anyone. If you read his new book, let me know what you think.

Cheers Gwen

Anonymous said...

Absolute Fiends is an Absolute disgrace and fraudulent scenario of an American Conspiracy to prop up a failed war on terror. He writes a book for the single purpose of making America look like terrorists in a 2 page flop of a climax. Whoopie - Hate America, Hate Bush, it's all our fault and we deserve it. Such a simple minded ending and statement I'm so impressed and convinced of the Neo-Con Conspiracy I think I'll become a Socialist Democrat and elect one of the Party members that brought us the last great war fiasco. Let me see Republicans are bad and killers and Democrats are good and give all the bad rich peoples' money to the poor; that's the ticket. Really John you obviously ran out of talent right at the end and made a great book into drivel for the zombie minded masses. Cheers!