Penguin, October 2021
I first encountered John le Carré, aka David Cornwell, on a conference call shortly after starting at Hodder & Stoughton in 1998, aged 24. It was a proper old-fashioned conference call, with the team gathered round a landline on speaker phone in the MD’s cavernous office. I recall a gruff and – to my young self, in a new job – intimidating voice, which has embodied the great author for me ever since.
I handled the book club editions of le Carré’s novels for six years but, whilst retaining enormous respect for his work, never became an absolute devotee. I was however intrigued by his curious, 200-page, posthumous novel, published three months ago, nine months after his death and apparently a decade or so after it was written.
It’s received mixed reviews and certainly, I couldn’t help finding it disjointed and, most likely, unfinished. All of the characteristic themes are there – exhausted spies; privately educated men with absent father figures; unfaithful wives; sketchily drawn female characters.
But this story of a 33-year-old disillusioned City trader who sets up a bookshop in a small East Anglian town, inevitably encountering a shady older man who claims to have been at school with his inevitably absent father, never quite hangs together.
I’m left feeling that this novel – begun over a decade ago - was never intended to be published.
Would love to hear thoughts from others.