New York Times Best Seller
A New York Times Notable Book
AMC Miniseries event Tuesday, April 19, 10/9c
John le Carré, the legendary author of sophisticated spy thrillers, is at the top of his game in this classic novel of a world in chaos.
With the Cold War over, a new era of espionage has begun. In the power vacuum left by the Soviet Union, arms dealers and drug smugglers have risen to immense influence and wealth. The sinister master of them all is Richard Onslow Roper, the charming, ruthless Englishman whose operation seems untouchable.
Slipping into this maze of peril is Jonathan Pine, a former British soldier who's currently the night manager of a posh hotel in Zurich. Having learned to hate and fear Roper more than any man on earth, Pine is willing to do whatever it takes to help the agents at Whitehall bring him down - and personal vengeance is only part of the reason why.
©2015 John le Carre (P)2016 Random House Audio
"A splendidly exciting, finely told story...masterly in its conception." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Intrigue of the highest order." (Chicago Sun-Times)
"Richly detailed and rigorously researched.... Le Carré's gift for building tension through character has never been better realized." (People)
I enjoyed Le Carre's words, but personally found David Case's narration to be quite off-putting. Case puts on distinct voices for each of the book's characters but, to the audiobook's detriment, selects for the narrator (who speaks for the bulk of the time) a particularly smarmy British that sounds like the natural outcome of teaching a child to speak by exposing them exclusively and in equal parts to recordings of prohibition-era movie robbers saying "So long, coppers" and untraveled Americans imitating British accents by saying, " 'ello Gub'nah". What's more, there are a number of 2-3 second, mid-sentence pauses that undermine Le Carre's unique flair for language and long, intricate sentences. While I've not listened to Michael Jayston's version of The Night Manager, I can vouch for his work on other Le Carre titles, which was excellent. Before buying, do consider listening to Audible's samples of both versions and decide which you'd prefer.
The story itself is good.
If you're coming from the AMC miniseries, the plot differs meaningfully in a number of ways, generally in the direction of spending more time on the mind/tradecraft of a spy and less on the James Bond-esque explosions.
If you're coming from Le Carre's other novels, The Night Manager is an above-replacement-value entry, and, if it is not quite at the same level as Tinker Tailor or The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, it is certainly still a good read. While it is set in the Smiley universe, there is no required (or even helpful) context from the previous books, nor does the Night Manager give away the previous books' secrets. The characters are a mixture of great and reasonably good (Roper: great; Goodhew: grand; Eponymous Hotelier: meh, okay). The story is Le Carre's first real success in translating his style to a post-Berlin Wall world (Russia House's central Brits v. Russians conflict was dulled by perestroika and Secret Pilgrim was more a book of B-Sides from the good old days than a coherent story of its own).
Bottom Line: it's a good book, worth listening to. Maybe just buy the Jayston version...
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"Every man has his personal devil waiting for him somewhere."
-- John le Carré, The Night Manager
"WAR is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small "inside" group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."
-- Major General Smedley Butler, 1935
After finishing le Carré's recent memoir The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, I felt the need to climb a bit higher up on my le Carré mountain. Since BBC had recently dropped its 6 episode series of 'The Night Manager' and since it was one of the handful of le Carré I haven't read (I now have just four left: Our Game, The Naive and Sentimental Lover, The Tailor of Panama, and Absolute Friends). I felt this novel was a good place, as any, to re-start JlC. I loved it. It wasn't perfect, but it was a nice exploration of the guns for drug trade that went on (and hell, probably still goes on) with tacit approval of arms producing nations (see UK, US, etc). Like most of le Carré's oeuvre it contains bureaucratic turf battles and isolated groups and individuals fighting for ideals in a corrupted world.
The book is set in the late 80s or early 90s (it was published in 1993), so I think of this as le Carré examining the underworld we didn't exactly get to see when Oliver North was testifying/obfuscating about his role in the Iran-Contra affair. Here, as always, le Carré is focused more on the UK's involvement and private arms dealing in this book. This book has received renewed attention since the 2015 BBC adaption staring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie. The adaption moves the time frame up (lucky for the adaption, arms dealing and government complicity in this ugly economy is almost timeless) to the period right around the Arab Spring.
Full disclosure here. Even though I have read other Le Carré selections, The Night Manager only came to my attention by way of AMC’s fantastic miniseries. That miniseries, which I highly recommend watching, was one of those rare instances where the adaptation slightly exceeds the source material. The miniseries edited out much of the backroom politics and verbal backstabbing, which Le Carré excels at, and was replaced with character drama, situational tension, physical action of all types, and explosions, which, cliché or not as a truth, Americans most eagerly respond to.
The Night Manager, the novel, with its grimy locales, dry dialogue, and political guesswork in hopes to obtain knighthood, probably presents a more accurate take of a modern day spy more so than England’s reigning pop-culture Superman, James Bond, as well as, you know, the alluring looks of Tom Hiddleston. A spy who crawls into deep, tight situations, conspires with uncomfortable characters, and, one would think, doesn’t rely on pithy one-liners during a bout of fisticuffs, is exactly Jonathan Pine’s role in the story; even though he does get to throw the occasional punch, as well as take one. Or a dozen. If anything, the true hero of the tale is Pine’s MI-6 contact Burr, the protagonist with a raging desire to take down, once-and-for-bloody-all, drug-runner and arms-broker Richard Roper, who has been tagged with the title “The Worst Man in the World”. As such, he fails to be awarded with a corporate beer sponsorship.
While Pine’s plight is definitely the more sexy one of the story, Burr gets a great deal of attention as he seeks to fight evil internally not only among his peers at the Riverhouse, but to do so with bureaucracy. Friends, bureaucracy ain’t sexy. And it can make for an overly-lengthy read. Burr is a fun character to get into, he’s strong and just, which gives the many overly-dry chapters that John Le Carré is known for a reason to continue. The American male side of me, however, was waiting for the explosions. Waiting for that denouement of “Ha-ha! Got you Dickie Roper!” But Le Carré doesn’t work that way, frustratingly so.
The Night Manager is a long, slow read that is probably a great representation of deep cover sting work but makes for a tiring read, with a resolution that is unfulfilled and wanting. What was missing were a few more well-placed explosions.
I found the performance so annoying that after an hour I gave up. I appreciated the different voices he gave the characters but the narration of the story and main character's thoughts were so irritating in their flow and pomposity. It was difficult to tell the difference between the narration and the characters. The flow was so choppy that I missed whole phrases as he rushed through them and then seemed to hold his breath before the next line. I have met many hoteliers and they are charming not like this narrator makes him sound.
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