Saturday, July 20, 2013

His American Characters Are Cartoons: James Srodes On John le Carre's 'A Delicate Truth

James Srodes reviewed John le Carre's A Delicate Truth for the Washington Times.

I confess to being a fan of John le Carre, both for his skill at storytelling and for the razor-sharp characters he creates. Laser portraits of even secondary characters make the reader believe he actually knows people like that.

I also like and admire David Cornwell, the man behind the nom de plume. Unlike many writers of crime and espionage literature, Mr. Cornwell has walked the walk. He worked for both Britain’s MI-5 (domestic counter-intelligence) and MI-6 (foreign intelligence) cracking safes, tapping telephones, running agents and other covert ops. Indeed, he was so employed when he wrote his first two books, “Call for the Dead” (1961) and “A Murder of Quality” (1962), both of them worth a read, by the way.

... The one flaw is one that is common to all of Mr. le Carre’s books. David Cornwell positively despises Americans and particularly those connected with the U.S. intelligence services. His indictment at base is one shared by many Britons of the left and is fueled in part by the newspapers they read (the Guardian) and it lies mainly in the undeniable fact that we are definitely not British. Not only are we far too polyethnic but we just refuse to order our society along proper British lines.

The result is that while Mr. Cornwell is unsurpassed in drawing acute portraits of his own national characters, his Americans are cartoons. One of the main villains in the story here is a wealthy woman who bankrolls Ethical Outcomes. She is a Texan (of course), coarse and bumptious (what else?), a Tea Party loony (sigh) and, most damning of all, a born-again Christian. His treatment of U.S. spy services is equally cliche-ridden.

I am sure Mr. Cornwell despises Americans because he told me so. Once, back in the early 1980s, I was introduced to him in a smoky Fleet Street pub frequented by journalists by an Australian newsman who had served as one of Mr. le Carre’s stock characters in several books. While he was cordial enough to me at the start, as the night wore on he became ever more bitter about America and its clumsy, self-indulgent national character which had given the world the Vietnam War, race riots, Richard Nixon and a host of other plagues.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

You can also read my column Spy Writer Vs. Spy Writer about John le Carre and Ian Fleming via the below link: 

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