What I Thought of… OUR KIND OF TRAITOR by John le Carré

I’d never read le Carré before, although The Spy Who Came in from the Cold had occasionally popped up on my Amazon wish list. I’m always looking for new authors to read, so I volunteered to review Our Kind of Traitor for Waterstones.com and – hooray! – got picked to receive a copy.

“Britain is in the depths of a recession. A left-leaning young Oxford academic and his barrister girlfriend take an off-peak holiday on the Caribbean island of Antigua. By seeming chance they bump into a Russian millionaire called Dima who owns a penisula and a diamond-encrusted gold watch. He also has a tattoo on his right thumb, and wants a game of tennis. What else he wants propels the young lovers on a tortuous journey through Paris to a safe house in the Swiss Alps, to the murkiest cloisters of the City of London and its unholy alliance with Britain’s Intelligence Establishment.”

The structure of this book reminds me of The Wire. For the first few episodes of the series, you have no idea what’s going on. You meet new characters, you watch shady transactions, you hear confusing conversations. Each seems to be its own story, entirely separate from the others. You wonder if you’re the only one watching who doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. But slowly and surely, episode by episode, what seemed like a wide scattering of unrelated stories begin to connect and contract, points on a line closing in on itself to form a circle, the world getting smaller and smaller until it’s all in there, everything is tied together and it suddenly all makes sense.

The difference between Traitor and The Wire is that The Wire holds my attention. Even when I’ve no clue what’s happening, I’m encouraged to hang around and find out. But reading this book, my mind wandered. I didn’t care enough to want to turn the page. Now we could blame the fact that I’m hardly the target audience (I was eight years old when the Cold War ended and therefore have no natural distrust of shady Russians, and I’m not British, or at all interested in awfully British spies) and I think perhaps we have to, as most newspapers this past weekend carried glowing reviews of this book. For me, the plot came to the boil slower than a pan of water heated by matchstick, and although it did pick up a bit towards the end, by then I was past caring.

Le Carré, it seems, is an acquired taste, and it’s most certainly not for me.

Our Kind of Traitor is published tomorrow. Click here to purchase it from Waterstones.com.

Click here to read all my book reviews.

3 thoughts on “What I Thought of… OUR KIND OF TRAITOR by John le Carré

  1. playpitspark says:

    I used to find John Le Carré’s books stunningly good. I’m sorry to say that the last few I have read seem to have a degree of ‘so-whatness’ about them. I was hoping that ‘Our Kind of Traitor’ would be better. I shall try not to be influenced by what you say, but I already suspect I shall arrive at the same conclusion. Once, his characters seemed so real. Now they don’t.

  2. playpitspark says:

    Finally found time to start ‘Our Kind of Traitor’. I agree with everything you say (and I remember the cold war well!). Le Carré’ is such an accomplished writer it’s a shame he couldn’t have branched out into something completely different, and succeed.

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