Open One, Get Three… Reviews

‘The Night Manager’ by John Le Carre

This novel is set in the 1990s, in the post Cold War era. Jonathan Pine is working as a ‘night manger’ at a posh hotel in Zurich when he finds himself meeting and greeting a VIP visitor, businessman and criminal, Richard Roper, whom he holds responsible for the murder of his lover, Sophie. Well, not entirely responsible because Pine substantially blames himself for passing information Sophie gave to him to the British Embassy.

Pine volunteers to work with the British Secret Service to run Roper down. Here follows a tortuous tale, including a stay in Cornwall in which Pine fakes a murder (why?), travels to Canada and persuades another lover to secure him a passport in someone else’s name (why again?) Then he arrives in the Caribbean working as a chef where he stages the kidnap and rescue of Roper’s eight year old son and thereby insinuates himself into Roper’s set… and so on.

The location changes with each of the long chapters. It was difficult to discern thread. Jonathan wants to avenge Sophie, yes, but everything was so complicated. Why didn’t MI6 just manufacture him new passport and identity?

This is the first Le Carre I have tackled. I have not read much in the spy genre (unless you count John Buchan, who wrote much earlier and in a very different age and worldview), so I’m no expert but what surprised me most was the pacing of the action. Le Carre allowed himself ‘time’ to provide the reader some vivid descriptions, of people and scene setting. This is how he portrays a tropical storm in Florida:

The hotel shudders and cracks, the last daylight dies as if the main switch has failed. Jets of rain spew down the window panes of Burr’s bedroom, black flotsam rides on the scurrying white mist. Billows of wind ransack the palm trees, hurling chairs and plants off balconies.

I am aware that, in the television adaptation, it was thought necessary to move the action from the Caribbean to the Middle East. This edition finishes with Le Carre explaining about these diversions from his book and, although he protests otherwise, I sensed that he was disappointed and annoyed.

‘The Duchess of Idaho’ by Meredith Allard

I read this while I was on holiday. It had been jumping out at me from my Kindle menu for a long time. I have read the first of Meredith’s ‘Beloved Husband’ series so I was delighted to find that The Duchess of Idaho was a sort of sequel, featuring James and Sarah Wentworth’s daughter, Grace. Like the rest of the series, it involved time travel, into periods of recent American history, in this case The Oregon Trail. Unlike the other books in the series, The Duchess of Idaho did not feature vampires (nice or otherwise), but there was benign witchcraft.

I remember reading The Children of the Oregon Trail as a child. The children living in wagons did not do well, frequently being killed in freak accidents and dying of disease, cholera in particular. Meredith conjures up a very real world, of dust and dirt, exhaustion and drudgery, hostile landscapes and insuperable obstacles, yet there was hope, always hope, that there was something world travelling for out west. The author did not attempt to gloss over the political incorrectness of nineteenth century thinking. If your much-loved husband died, you found another one as soon as possible. The people on the trail got very confused when Grace said the word ‘racist’ and some racial issues, particularly regarding native Americans, did feature.

Grace, from the relative comfort of the twenty-first century, had some tough decisions to make. Ultimately, love triumphed.

‘Medieval Lives’ by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira

I normally avoid like the plague anything written, promoted or endorsed by celebrities, but, as a Monty Python freak, I couldn’t resist reading about the middle ages by from the makers of The Holy Grail.

The book was factual, informative and definitely entertaining, concentrating, not on kings and queens, but (as the title suggests) on everyday life as lived by ordinary people. I learned that knights, despite revelling in chivalry, were thugs, breaking each others’ limbs beating each other to a pulp, not at all gallant, particularly where damsels were concerned. Damsels weren’t all submissive either, many of them seeking out their own mate and defending them their interests vigorously.

Another interesting fact: when Edward III made peace with France, a lot of English fighters were scattered around Europe with nothing to do. So they set upon vandalising continental Europe. Ring a bell somewhere? English football hooligans in late 1980s?

One thing, however, I should point out. That line from The Holy Grail regarding somebody’s father smelling of elderberries. One of the things that has kept me from blogging is making elderberry jam from the fruit from our tree and I can confirm – without a shadow of doubt – that elderberries have no smell.

Hope the above is enough to be going on with. This is not all I’ve read but I don’t have time, at the moment, to write reviews of everything I’ve read. I will be back.

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