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junipergreen

pareidolia

science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else. often, though not always, discussed in relation to gender identity and (a)sexuality.

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Boystown 11: Heart's Desire
Marshall Thornton
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John le Carré - The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy - John le Carré

Then nothing happened for five weeks.

 

That‘s how reading this book felt like; except that actually a lot of things happen, but they just go on and on and on…

 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was confined to English offices and the British soil. In The Honourable Schoolboy, le Carré sends his readers and the „schoolboy“ in question, fieldman Jerry Westerby, on a tour de force through Southeast Asia. A mysterious trail of money leads from Hong Kong back to Smiley‘s nemesis Karla, and to another of his moles somewhere in mainland China. It‘s Jerry‘s task to shake the tree, cause some panic, and draw out the mole. At least I think that’s what happens, because the plot fades into the background here, building the mere canvas on which le Carré paints his picture of the British colonies during the Empire's dying breath, during the last days of the Vietnam war.

 

That‘s all very interesting and riveting, but goes on for about 200 pages too long, and is spoiled by two of the Most Insufferable Protagonists of Spy Fiction Ever: Peter Guillam and the Honourable Gerald Westerby. Guillam, the 40-year-old man showing all the maturity of a 20-year-old boy, with his fawning over Smiley and his spurned-lover‘s act when George doesn‘t let him in on his secrets, quickly got on my nerves. And Jerry Westerby – well, le Carré‘s characters share a certain pathetic quality, but Westerby sure wins the coconut. Right at the beginning of the book we meet him when he contemplates having sex with a woman because she reminds him of his estranged daughter. Err – yeah, not exactly the kind of guy I want to spend 600 pages with. This Jerry Westerby, this failure on all levels, this dilapidated fieldman, a newshound who owes his job to his influential father, a guy who can‘t keep a marriage running for more than a few month, this absolute Loser with a capital L – is actually a fitting character to carry the second half of the book. Because he‘s an idiot. A smart man would have done the job and gone home, leaving us with only half the story. Unfortunately, le Carré seems so in love with his creation that he keeps Westerby bumbling around for much longer than necessary. Nevertheless, and although the ending was quite inevitable, I felt a bit sorry for him at long least. Well plaid, le Carré, well plaid.

 

Although being spy-fiction, not noir, this was quite a fitting start for Noirvember; Jerry's fate carries a certain noir-quality, femme fatale and all. It also contains one of my favourite character descriptions: a tweedy and opinionated Scot.

 

Favourite quote:

"It's the Cousins," Guillam said gently. "About Brother Ricardo, your favourite pilot. They want to meet with you at the Annexe as soon as possible. I'm to ring back by yesterday."

"They want what?"

"To meet you. But they use the preposition."

"Do they? Do they really? Good Lord. I suppose it's the German influence. Or it is old English? Meet with. Well I must say." And he lumbered off to his bathroom to shave.