Monday, January 10, 2011

Our Kind of Traitor

One of my birthday presents was Our Kind of Traitor, a handsomely bound copy of le Carre's latest novel. This was a big difference from Our Game, which was a knackered paperback purchased for three dollars in a Nova Scotian Value Village.

There is some consistency between the two novels, insofar as there's a decent British chap and chapess, although the characters in 'Traitor are rather more decent than the self-deceiving/despising/destructing bunch from 'Game. Plus there's not much in the way of complicated flashbacks, whereas 'Game was full of movements back and forth, which didn't help when I was already wrestling with the (mis?)apprehension of an unreliable narrator with possible paranoid delusions.

I try not to read the blurbs of le Carre any more, because they tend to give half the plot away, and are inaccurate about everything else. Thus it would be intellectually bad form to give away the plot of this one, but I can say it involves Russians, and shady Russians at that, without feeling I've robbed anyone of their deserved suspense.

Like many le Carre, the plot is all jammed up at the end in a big rush; Simple & Simple, Our Game and Our Sort of Traitor all share this feeling that le Carre has spent quite a lot of time on characterisation and back story, thank you very much, and now wants to wrap the damned thing up as swiftly as possible.

Sometimes this is to the detriment of the plot, but in this case it works very well; you know something bad will happen, but as ever the hope is dangled that just this once, things will work out. And I suppose le Carre is working within the expectations he expects us to have, and doing so well that in the last ten pages I had the strange experience of sitting on the edge of my seat *while reading a book*, fearful to turn the page and yet hoping against hope, as the end approached, that it would be a happy one.

It occurs to me that Stross' Laundry novels have pastiched Deighton, Fleming, and Burgess. Perhaps the last will do for le Carre. And everyone will be betrayed or die at the end.

The ending of Our Kind of Traitor ... well, it would be wrong to reveal it, just to say that it's as cruel as vintage le Carre ever was. Can you guess what it is yet? 1

1 Which suddenly suggests a Rolf Harris collaboration, which would be very wrong indeed.2
2 And involve a wobbleboard.3
3 Also very wrong.


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