Monday, 8 July 2013

The Mission Song - John le Carre


You quickly realise that le Carre's starting point is the 'Scratcher' Thatcher attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004.  You know, therefore, that the really guilty parties are never going to be brought to account and that the Establishment will protect its own.  This is what gets le Carre's goat and why he is driven to write the novel, but his challenge is distract you from what you already know, and this he achieves with his narrator/protagonist Salvo, son of a mission priest and now the go-to man for interpreter services in more or less any African language you fancy.  His talents have brought him to the periphery of the UK secret services and it is they who send him undercover to the Wonga list plotters.  It's Salvo's conversational voice that keeps us hooked, especially as he falls for the nurse Hannah and leaves his wife Penelope, upcoming (and likely down-going) star of the British Press.

As always, le Carre has begun with meticulous research but the book is best when its in Salvo free flow.  I can't think of a more engaging and likeable protagonist in any other le Carre book.  An object lesson, then, in the wonders of first-person narrative.

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