The Night Manager, John le Carré

Fathers' Day, in my memory as a child, was almost invariably marked by a ceremonial present of the latest le Carré novel from my dad to my grandfather. I had never read one, but I'm reading a mix of romance and espionage at the moment and had recently rented the 2016 TV miniseries, which is excellent. One of the absolutely fascinating things was seeing the way the 2016 miniseries had adapted le Carré's book, which was published in 1993: the primary action is moved from Panama to Afghanistan, for example.

Le Carré is a brilliant writer: not just in terms of the convoluted details of Intelligence bureaucracy, but his often unexpectedly poetic sentences (Jonathan is described as being a "graduate of a rainy archipelago of orphanages, foster homes, half-mothers, cadet units and training camps") , and then, of course, the dazzling way his characters talk to one another. Major Corkoran is priceless. Roper's language changes, depending on his mood, and the MI6 characters make me grieve for the British public school education I never had. One of my favorite bits is the interview in which Corkoran (who uses the plural) is grilling Jonathan about his past:
"Smoke ourselves, do we, heart? In better times?"
"A bit."
"What times are they, old love?"
"Cooking."
"Can't hear us."
"Cooking. When I'm taking a break from hoteling."
Major Corkoran became all enthusiasm. "I must say, not a word of a lie. Bloody good grub you ran us up at Mama's before you saved the side that night. Were those sauced-up mussels all our own work?"
"Yes."
"Finger-lickin' good. How about the carrot cake? We scored a bull's-eye there, I can tell you. Chief's favorite. Flown in, was it?"
"I made it."
"Come again, old boy?"
"I made it."
Corkoran was robbed of words. "You mean you made the carrot cake? Our own tiny hands? Old love. Heart."
All this combined with him being absolutely ruthless and Jonathan in danger of losing his life if his identity is exposed.

Here's what I'm not crazy about, and it's understandable, but le Carré comes out of a male-dominated world in which women are side characters who exist in the story primarily for the hero, and the older I get, the less I'm interested in "lone wolf" men with no familial attachments, who seem to find an attractive, willing 20-something in every port along their journey while cherishing some attachment to 'the one woman' they 'really' love (Charles McCarry's The Shanghai Factor does the same thing).

There is a very moving section at the end of The Night Manager where Jonathan draws strength and inspiration through his worst trials from his imaginary conversations with a madonna-like Sophie (now long dead), but he's been getting around quite a bit in the meantime and is in the middle of a relationship with Roper's mistress, Jed, the woman he'll go on to live happily ever after with. It's sweet, but one can't help reflecting it sucks to be Sophie. This idea that a man can be considered, without irony, to be faithful, in love, while sleeping with multiple (disposable) women, makes me wonder if a lot of men have a different concept of fidelity. The best I could do was to imagine mourning a beloved first wife while moving on to a second, but I struggled to emotionally connect with the otherwise appealing Jonathan because of this.

Still, it's a brilliant book, and I look forward to reading more by him.