The fact that I didn’t know this one existed until a whole year later means that, since John le Carré’s death in 2020, the publicity machine must have abated somewhat. I read it in one day, all 215 pages.
Evidently, this novel was written before “A Delicate Truth” which implies that it was based in or about 2010. That would work since the storyline focuses on the Bosnian War and the fallout from it, 20 years later. There is one passage that made me go, “Huh?”
‘Being a spare wheel at Training Section, basically,’ Proctor confessed. ‘Main job: putting together sanitised case histories as teaching tools for new entrants. Under the general heading of “Agent Handling in the Field”. Partly to be used as lecture material, and partly for mock exercises.’Page 88
The reason for my surprise is that this passage presaged his last book “Agent Running in the Field”. The ambiguity of the title was noted then, and this quote confirms my thinking.
Most of the critics of this ‘latest’ book seem surprised that the ending should be so succinct, and supposedly incomplete. Where have they been all this time? Most of this author’s novels end like that. Very few of them have ‘happily ever after’ feel-good endings. And some are so cut off, that over the years I decided that he must hate coming to the end of a novel, so he just has done with it, ‘just like that.’
Anyway, I refuse to echo their sentiments, since, as always, le Carré has such a good ear for dialogue that I am always intrigued by his use of mimicry. I even ‘saw’ in my mind’s eye that the character of Edward Avon (aka Florian) was based on Ian McKellen.
Under fluorescent lights lay a dozen empty tables covered in red plastic gingham. He chose one and cautiously extracted the menu from a cluster of cruets and sauce bottles. The babble of a foreign news announcer issued through the open kitchen door. A crash and a shuffle of heavy feet from behind him informed him of the advent of another guest. Glancing at the wall mirror, he was guardedly amused to recognise the egregious person of Mr Edward Avon, his importunate but engaging customer of the previous evening, if a customer who had bought nothing
Though he had yet to see his face – Avon, with his air of perpetual motion, being far too preoccupied with hanging up his broad-brimmed Homburg hat and adjusting his dripping fawn raincoat over the back of a chair – there was no mistaking the rebellious mop of white hair or the unexpectedly delicate fingers as, with a defiant flourish, they extracted a folded copy of the Guardian newspaper from the recesses of the raincoat and flattened it on the table before him.Pages 9-10
So, the question remain: why did le Carré not have this one published, until after his death? His son, Nick Cornwell, explains in the Afterword:
But Silverview does something that no other le Carré novel ever has. It shows a service fragmented: filled with its own political factions, not always kind to those it should cherish, not always very effective or alert, and ultimately not sure, any more, that it can justify itself. In Silverview, the spies of Britain have, like many of us, lost their certainty about what the country means, and who we are to ourselves. As with Karla in Smiley’s People, so here with our own side: it is the humanity of the service that isn’t up to the task — and that begins to ask whether the task is worth the cost.
I think he couldn’t quite bring himself to say that out loud. I think, knowingly or not, he choked on being the bearer of these truths to – of – from – the institution that gave him a home when he was a lost dog without a collar in the middle of the twentieth century. I think he wrote a wonderful book, but, when he looked at it, he found it cut too close to the bone, and the more he worked on it, the more he refined it, the plainer that became — and here we are.Pages 214-215
Yes, here we are. And even the Americans are beginning to doubt their Secret Services, their FBI and their CIA. As always, the truth will out.