No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

2018/22: Absolute Friends -- John le Carré

"How do we make it impossible for your country, or America, or any damn country, to take the world to war on the strength of a bunch of cooked-up lies that in the cold light of day look about as plausible as the pixies in your fucking garden?" [p. 325]

The eponymous friends are Ted Mundy, son of a disgraced British major stationed in Pakistan, and Sasha, son of an East German Lutheran pastor and his wife who've defected to West Germany. Ted and Sasha meet in Berlin in the late sixties, discover that they share ideological passions (as well as lusting after the same women) and save one another's lives. Ted is deported, and drifts through the next decade of his life, marrying a nice Labour activist and working for the British Council: on a theatrical tour of Eastern Europe, he encounters Sasha again, and is recruited -- as Sasha has been -- to work as a double agent.

Then the Cold War ends, the Wall falls, Ted and Sasha are cast adrift. Ted ends up as a tour guide in Bavaria, Sasha as an academic entrepreneur: but when they meet again they find their ideologies still aligned, except that now they're fighting corporate capitalism and the phony wars of Bush and Blair.

Both Sasha and Ted are drawn with unsentimental affection. Their friendship is a delight: their codependence and loyalty to one another poignant. Because, of course, there's no room for Cold War spies in the 21st century... For most of the novel the prose is clear, precise, wry and sometimes fond: classic le Carré, and the reason that every time I read one novel by this author I crave more. The final chapters of Absolute Friends, though, are very angry, very emotional: the ending lacks the icy dispassionate calm of early le Carré, and though it's effective, devastating and exquisitely paced it casts the rest of the book in another light.

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