Cold war capers

29 09 2011

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

Leamas is tired. It’s the 1960s, he’s been out in the cold for years, spying in Berlin for his British masters, and has seen too many good agents murdered for their troubles. Now Control wants to bring him in at last – but only after one final assignment. He must travel deep into the heart of Communist Germany and betray his country, a job that he will do with his usual cynical professionalism. But when George Smiley tries to help a young woman Leamas has befriended, Leamas’s mission may prove to be the worst thing he could ever have done. In le Carré’s breakthrough work of 1963, the spy story is reborn as a gritty and terrible tale of men who are caught up in politics beyond their imagining.

Very good indeed. Spare, grim and quite compelling. Having never read any le Carré and completely missed the TV adaptations, I thought I’d better try something before going to see the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie. The only book I can recall coming close to this is the huge and sprawling Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer (which I read around 15 years ago now).

Anyway, highly recommended (although appreciate everyone else has got there before and there aren’t many to recommend it to). Really do want to catch up with the other ones now.

The art of theft

22 09 2011

Theft: a love story by Peter Carey

Theft is the story of Michael “Butcher” Boone, an Australian artist whose career is having an early and comprehensive twilight. He is guardian, babysitter and caretaker for his “damaged two hundred and twenty pound brother”, Hugh. “There is always Hugh,” Butcher says, “and you cannot take a slash or park the truck without considering him.” As the novel opens, Butcher is fresh out of jail for robbing his ex-wife of his own paintings, paintings that became hers when the marriage ended. Exiled to a remote house owned by a fussy former patron, Butcher is trying to get his career back on track, avoid his creditors and manage Hugh, when – on a stormy, flooding evening – he receives a visit from the mysterious Marlene, described by Hugh as “a GAMINE with tiny boobies and a silk dress you could have fitted in your pocket with your hanky”.

Through marriage to Olivier Liebovitz, Marlene is the holder of the droit moral, the hereditary right to authenticate paintings, in this case those of Olivier’s dead father, Jacques Liebovitz. Somehow, Butcher and Hugh’s farmer neighbour has recently acquired a Liebovitz of mysterious provenance, and Marlene arrives, a vision in Manolo Blahniks tramping through knee-deep mud, to put a validating stamp on it, immediately sending its worth into the stratosphere.

– from the Guardian review of the book.

The tale is told through the alternating narratives of Butcher and his brother Hugh and both become involved, following the arrival of Marlene, in what seems to be an elaborate and lucrative scam which takes them to Tokyo and New York. Both characters are terrifically portrayed and Carey’s writing is just excellent. The novel is also a great exploration of the real and the fake in art and in life. It’s a thoroughly entertaining read and well worth a go.

Trespassers will not be treated well

15 09 2011

Trespass by Rose Tremain

Set among the hills and gorges of the Cevennes, the dark and beautiful heartland of southern France, Trespass is a thrilling novel about disputed territory, sibling love and devastating revenge.

In a silent valley stands an isolated stone farmhouse, the Mas Lunel.Its owner is Aramon Lunel, an alcoholic so haunted by his violent past that he’s become incapable of all meaningful action, letting his hunting dogs starve and his land go to ruin. Meanwhile, his sister, Audrun, alone in her modern bungalow within sight of the Mas Lunel, dreams of exacting retribution for the unspoken betrayals that have blighted her life.

Into this closed Cevenol world comes Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned antiques dealer from London. Now in his sixties, Anthony hopes to remake his life in France, and he begins looking at properties in the region.From the moment he arrives at the Mas Lunel, a frightening and unstoppable series of consequences is set in motion.

Really enjoyed this. The setting in the Cevennes works extremely well and Tremain is an excellent and powerful writer. The clashes between the old and the new, France and England, the two Lunels and Verey and his sister and her partner make this a really compelling and rather unsettling novel. Highly recommended.

A star isn’t born

10 09 2011

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

For some reason I overlooked these reviews of this book:

‘If you have yet to read genius comedy crime writer Carl Hiassen, Star Island is the perfect introduction…We dare you not to laugh out loud’ Heat

‘A fab and funny take on the celeb world’ Now

‘Absolutely everyone is out to get what they want, which means the appalled but delighted reader gets a grin on every page’ Evening Standard

Had I noticed then I would have certainly avoided. Nevertheless, thought it might have had something going for it:

Twenty-two-year-old pop star Cherry Pye is attempting a comeback from her latest drug and alcohol disaster. Ann DeLusia is Cherry’s ‘undercover stunt double’, standing in for Cherry whenever the singer is too wasted to go out in public. But, one night, Ann-as-Cherry is mistakenly kidnapped from a Miami hotel by an obsessed paparazzo named Bang Abbott. Now the challenge for Cherry’s handlers (comprising the world’s pushiest stage mother; perverted record producer; nipped-and-tucked twin publicists; weed-strimmer-wielding bodyguard) is to rescue Ann while keeping her existence secret from the public.Will Bang achieve his fantasy of a private photo session with Cherry? Will Cherry sober up in time to lip-synch her concert tour and promote her new album, Skantily Klad? And will Ann escape from Cherry’s shadow?

So, sounded entertaining enough in a throwaway, summer read kind of way. However, it is pretty poor stuff I’m afraid to report. Don’t really know why I stuck with it until the end. Mistake.


8 09 2011

Incandescence by Craig Nova

Stargell had it all. A prestigious job at a think tank. A beautiful Greek wife. Money enough to indulge his expensive tastes. Then one day he lost his job for using the think tank s computer to play the horses and his life started taking a very definite turn for the worse. Suddenly he’s broke, his wife’s going crazy, and a very determined Lower East Side loan shark has his number. In the midst of all this danger and chaos, however, the resilient and darkly comic Stargell pushes his limits, playing it by ear. For Stargell is sustained by those rare moments of redeeming grace when every experience feels vital and valuable, when even the darkest moments and the most soiled landscapes seem to glow with a burning incandescence.

A good read this (unusually also read in traditional book form too). Has a bit of ‘On the Road’ about it but is also really quite entertaining, albeit a bit dark in places. Whilst Stargell is not exactly an endearing lead, he is engaging enough to sustain interest.

I’d never heard of it or Craig Nova before receiving this as a present but would certainly recommend. And some of the other books in this Capuchin Classics series look really good too.

%d bloggers like this: