Agent Running in the Field (2019)
I love a good spy novel, I must admit. And le Carré‘s brand of convoluted tale is the best, in my opinion. But, as always, I wonder about the naming of said stories.
Agent-Running in the Field or Agent, Running in the Field?
The ambiguity probably doesn’t matter in this case.
The novel is set in 2018 and depicts the relationship between Nat (né Anatoly), a 47-year-old member of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), and a young man he plays badminton with weekly. In an extract from the novel published prior to publication, The Guardian describes how ‘Nat admits to serious reservations about the idea of England “as the mother of all democracies”, describing the country as in freefall, with “a minority Tory cabinet of 10th-raters… Labour no better. The sheer bloody lunacy of Brexit”. Boris Johnson is described in the book as a “pig-ignorant foreign secretary”.’Wikipedia
What is lovely to behold is the author’s technique of letting his characters say aloud what he is obviously thinking to himself. This allows for criticism of his country and others amidst a very perplexing time in the world. For example:
The date, never to be forgotten by either of us, is 16 July. We have played our usual strenuous match. I have lost again, but never mind, get used to it. Casually, towels round our necks, we head for our Stammtisch anticipating the usual sporadic Monday-evening clatter of voices and glasses in a largely empty room. Instead we are met by an unnatural, fidgety silence. At the bar, a half-dozen of our Chinese members are staring at a television screen that is routinely given over to sport of any kind from anywhere. But this evening we are not for once watching American football or Icelandic ice hockey but Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders are in Helsinki giving a joint press conference. They are standing shoulder to shoulder before the flags of both their nations. Trump, speaking as if to order, is disowning the findings of his own intelligence services, which have come up with the inconvenient truth that Russia interfered in the 2016 American presidential election. Putin smiles his proud jailer’s smile.
Somehow Ed and I grope our way to our Stammtisch and sit. A commentator reminds us, lest we have forgotten, that only yesterday Trump declared Europe to be his enemy and for good measure trashed NATO.
Where am I in my mind, as Prue would say? Part of me is with my former agent Arkady. I am replaying his description of Trump as Putin’s shithouse cleaner. I am remembering that Trump ‘does everything for little Vladi that little Vladi can’t do for himself’. Another part of me is with Bryn Jordan in Washington, cloistered with our American colleagues as they stare incredulously at the same act of presidential treachery.le Carré, John. Agent Running in the Field (pp. 168-169). Penguin Canada. Kindle Edition.
It’s that level of honest reflection of some historical event(s) that gives this novel its power.
The story is something that I suggest you read for yourself, because I am often accused (by my own daughter) of giving away the ending. This one telegraphed its denouement long before the end, but it was fun to go along for the ride, anyway.
Will we see the like of this author again? I doubt it, but there is another book that will be published posthumously. I eagerly await that one, too.