Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Quote of the Day (John le Carre, on the British Embassy in Cold War West Germany)

“Imagine a sprawling factory block of no merit, the kind of building you see in dozens on the western bypass, usually with a symbol of its product set out on the roof; paint about it a sullen Rhenish sky, add an indefinable hint of Nazi architecture, just a breath, no more, and erect in the rough ground behind it two fading goalposts for the recreation of the unwashed, and you have portrayed with fair accuracy the mind and force of England in the Federal Republic.”— British-Irish spy novelist David Cornwell, a.k.a. John le Carre (1931-2020), A Small Town in Germany (1968)

Over the course of his remarkable half-century of writing, John le Carre produced countless vivid descriptions such as this, leading historian Simon Schama, after the novelist’s death late last year, rightly hail him, in a Financial Times retrospective, as “a sketch-artist of fateful topography.”

There is more than a little truth to the contention by former British national security official Dr. Lynette Nusbacher, in a blog post for The Times of Israel, that le Carre “increasingly tended towards caricature of Americans as ridiculous, absurdly zealous, but immensely powerful; and towards America’s enemies as blameless.” 

But his best work will survive him for the manifest gifts on display: not just a new level of realism in spy novels, but also vivid description, an ironic narrative voice, and sharp dialogue.

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