The Mission Song is John le Carré's newest novel. It is centered around Bruno Salvador - a half-British, half-Congolese interpreter of numerous obscure African languages - as he's whisked away by British Intelligence to a secret conference between the representatives of a Western-backed syndicate of politicians and celebrities, an ambitious Congolese leader preaching reform, and three Congolese warlords. The goal of this clandestine conference is none other than changing the government in the resource rich Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo... for the benefit of the Congolese people, of course.
First off, le Carré has been on a slide since the end of the Cold War. He still writes better novels than all the other thriller writers out there, but he's had a hard time recapturing his glory days. The Mission Song is right up there with Our Game as the best of his post-Cold War novels, and it definitely finds a place of honor among his better works as well. Like his previous two novels, Absolute Friends (2003) and The Constant Gardener (2000), it has a more obvious political theme than some of his others, but this time he manages to make his theme blend well with the plot.
The Mission Song is one man's reawakened sense of identity and conscience; Bruno has to decide how much he's going to allow Western interests to interfere with a society that has witnessed one of the bloodiest wars since the end of World War Two. He has choices to make: loyalty to his employers or his conscience; loyalty to his manipulating country or a manipulated people; loyalty to his all-white, career minded, adulterating wife or a Congolese nurse. The book also discusses, ultimately, whose responsibility it is to get Congo - and, by extension, Africa - back on track; and I'm sure a few politicians, singers, and actors will be surprised by the discussion.
Le Carré's narrative is extremely engaging and his characters are larger than life. He never spells anything out for the reader, but offers enough hints for those who pay attention. Even though he has a political ax to grind over Britain's involvement in the Iraq War, and grind it he does, he still isn't preachy. And his dialogue is both brilliant and creative, definitely up there with David Mamet's.
I really enjoyed the novel as a thriller, as well as for the awareness and vast amount of information about Congo, it's troubles, Rwanda's involvement, coltan et cetera. Even though the events in the novel span less than a week, I wouldn't recommend it for people who love fast-paced thrillers; this is a novel for the patient reader. A rewarding novel.
A young, tortured Chechen man shows up in Hamburg, Germany. He claims to be a Muslim and wants to become a doctor. Enlisting the help of a young lawyer from a human rights group, he asks her to approach a British private banker whose bank has some shady money on deposit for him. And then the German, British, and American intelligence communities become aware of his presence.
Although the novel was slow to grasp my interest, le Carré does a good job building the intrigue, mystery, and tension as the story progresses. His prose is spot on and a true pleasure to read. The characters, while not stellar, are certainly adequate to carry the story.
Unfortunately, that's about all the good things I can say about this novel. It is garnering some good reviews in the press, but that's hardly surprising. With an election in the US, this novel's release was very well timed; and it isn't hard to peg the political ideology of the reviewers giving it a positive review. Those who love it and those who hate it are doing so, not so much for the novel's merits, but rather expressing their own beliefs. However, those looking for a good story with great characters may feel left in no man's land.
Of le Carré's activist novels--The Constant Gardener, Absolute Friends, The Mission Song, A Most Wanted Man--I prefer the ones dealing with Africa to the ones dealing with the war on terror. At least with the African ones he's writing about something he's interested in; the war on terror ones are mainly him venting his rage. I also question its staying power, as it seems to be a novel of the moment.
Fans will find some of the old le Carré still around, mainly in the prose. Gone is the ambiguity, which I loved, and the pace is faster. The ending, however, is pure le Carré--only more so; and I'm not so sure I like the more so part.
It's still an okay novel, but not one that needs to be read immediately--unless you're a bleeding-heart liberal; neoconservatives shouldn't even bother.
This is le Carré's first proper full-on spy novel. And what a cracker. The story involves and elaborate sting operation against a senior official in East Germany. The seedy nature of espionage is explored and exploited to tell a rather nasty little tale of bluff and counter-bluff. The story flows very quickly and the plot twists are, while not particularly surprising, so well executed that I was involved right to the end.
As a footnote, George Smiley doesn't actually appear in this story. He is mentioned quite a bit but always described by others'. Even when he says something at the very end, only his voice is heard. In a play he would be in the wings.
By My Friend Jack
I've taken the best part of 3 months to get through this - eventually finished it this morning. It's the first of his books that I've read, so have no idea how it compares with his other works. The fact that it took so long to read is more a reflection on the fact that I don't spend too much time on the train these days, and opportunities to read on the M25 are infrequent.
It's an odd book - a very slow start, featuring a character who eventually gets pushed into the margins. The real "hero" is there from the early pages, but doesn't take centre stage for quite a time.
A sobering story, and an even more sobering Note.
This is le Carré's first novel and the first to feature George Smiley. Written in 1961 and presumably contemporarily set this short novel is a very clever crime novel which just happens to be about spies.
George Smiley is sent for when a civil servant from the Foreign Office kills himslef the day after Smiley had interviewed him as part of a security investigation. Anxious to avoid a scandal Smiley is sent to ensure no blame can be placed on his department. It soon becomes clear to Smiley the death was not a suicide but a murder. With the help of a Special Branch policeman and a colleague, Smiley's investigates.
The plot is not particularly taxing and there aren't really any great surprises. But as an introduction to, and background about Smiley it is interesting.
It's not long but it is good.