Book review: Silverview, by John le Carré
There is a signature scene of John le Carré in Silverview in which Stuart Procter, a member of the Secret Intelligence Service, visits two former colleagues, a long-retired married couple, in order to explore the past and career of one. highly regarded former agent, Florian, who is now a suspect. Towards the end of the scene the husband, incapacitated by a stroke, says “between us – don’t tell your interns or you will lose your pension – we haven’t done much to change the situation. course in human history, have we? As one old spy over another, I think it would have been more useful to run a boys’ club. I don’t know how you feel … “
Procter, who also often goes by the name Pearson, does not respond, but one cannot help but wonder if, after 60 years and 26 novels, it is not Le Carré’s own judgment: that the Secret Service has often does a lot of harm and little good. Of course, even if it does, his fascination with them and their functioning in dark places remains keen and, indeed, from the earliest days of Call to the Dead and The Spy Who Came From the Cold, he was alert to the moral ambivalence of the secret world and its inhabitants.
Silverview is, alas, his last word, his last novel written the year before his death a year ago. Frankly, since he has a freshness, despite a great deal of familiarity, that is remarkable for an author on the verge of his tenth decade and on the verge of death, one would not be surprised to be told that he was written there. some time ago. Still, it seems not, and it seems to me that this is his best novel since A Most Wanted Man, published in 2008.
The novel begins with a young woman, Lily, with her son in a stroller, calling into a London house to deliver an envelope, requiring an oral response. We then turn to a dark, rain-swept seaside town in East Anglia, where Julian, after giving up a very successful career as a town trader, has opened a bookstore. A white-haired old man, wearing a raincoat and an old-fashioned Homburg hat, calls her up, makes conversations and suggestions, but doesn’t buy anything. This is Edward Avon, also known as Edvard, Ted and Teddie. He has courteous manners, as old-fashioned as his hat. Is he a boring or an eccentric or what? Regardless, he is likable, but also mysterious. He claims to have been a school friend of Julian’s eccentric father. He is married to Deborah and lives in a mansion, Silverview. Debbie is dying of cancer and they are on bad terms. We soon learn that Debbie has been, and still really is, high in the Service, that Lily is their daughter, that Edward makes long phone calls from a cafe run by a Polish woman, and that he has no computer but uses one of its own. to a woman who owns what used to be called a curio shop and now asks to use Julian’s.
That’s the setup, and one would have to be a boring reader – or a newcomer to the Square – not to sense with growing interest and even apprehension – where he’s heading, not to sense that Edward has a past. rich and also painful. , and soon he is that classic figure of the Square, the beaten but never beaten idealist who is suspected of having gone rogue and is now seen as a black sheep who has strayed from the herd.
The rhythm of the novel is beautifully judged. As always, the Square moves by then, much of the narrative coming from conversations salvaged from the past, from Poland in the Cold War and Bosnia in the terrible break-up of Yugoslavia. There’s just enough of the familiar crafting, most of it Proctor-centric, lovable, sympathetic, but duty bound. As for Edward, Tennyson had it recorded before Square wrote to him:
Nabokov, in his Literature Lectures, told readers to cherish the details. Le Carré has always been a master of detail, and there are plenty of precious details here. It’s, I guess, a sunset romance, but what a glow it leaves in the evening sky.
Silverview, by John le Carré, Viking, 208 pages, £ 20
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