Updated: Jun 14
by John Le Carré
Review by Rae Richen
John Le Carré’s last novel, edited by his son Nick Cornwell, is a delightful exhibition of characters and insights. Julian Lawndsley, a relative naïve in the political and spy world, narrates his encounters with a con artist, Edward and his mysterious family.
When Lawndsley leaves his city job and opens a bookstore in the beach town in East Anglia, he becomes enamored of the obvious people user and irrepressible liar, Edward Avon.
Edward, his wife, his daughter, and his hidden love in London become an adventure for Lawndsley and for us.
In alternate chapters, Le Carré introduces us to spy chief, Stewart Proctor, ostensibly of MI5, or is it MI6? or is the British spy business now dying or defunct? Is Proctor overseeing its burial?
Proctor, well-aware of the bumbling in the upper reaches of British Intelligence, sets out to discover the truth behind Edward Avon.
In one amazing chapter, Le Carré’s Proctor descends into the bowels of what once were command shelters during the Cold War and there, he carries on a conversation with his tour guide about how things work, used to work, maybe still work and why they might not work – a very revealing conversation.
Does British intelligence have a problem? A financing problem? A trust problem? A moral problem?
Every conversation in the story is replete with Le Carré double meaning, or empty spaces that can be filled with guesses as to meaning, and off-hand comments by Proctor or Edward or Julian that makes you laugh out loud.
Aside from revealing maybe more than Le Carré wanted to reveal about the state of British Intelligence (he seemed to his son to have been reluctant to publish this finished novel), this story captures the reader, hoping Julian and others really are as naïve and as innocent as they seemed. Or were they, in truth, part of the web of distrust?
Or was the author's reluctance to publish related to the character of Edward Avon and his resemblance to people that the author knew?
Well worth adding to your collection of Le Carré novels. Buy a new bookcase, if you have to.