Code/Coda John le Carré
At this point everyone knows it, and those who don’t know it spent too much time locked up in some ‘safe house’ or being interrogated by some secret organization paid by a government: if Arthur Conan Doyle was the one who, with Sherlock Holmes, patented the idea of the very ‘colorful’ detective, then John le Carré, with his George Smiley and his Circus, he was the one who registered in his name and life and work, the figure of the gray spy.
And with the supposedly posthumous and last ‘Silverview Project’ (but actually written in 2013, before his last two novels were published during his lifetime),
The square (code name of David John Moore Cornwell, 1931-2020) once again invites us to stroll through those ocher landscapes and
wintry where everything seems suspended in that calm that precedes the storm until, suddenly, thunder and lightning and a deluge.
But here everything sounds more like a delicate chamber piece than a tempestuous symphony in Karla’s time. In fact, ‘Project Silverview’ starts bucolic and pastoral and with a certain Julian Lawndsley, young man in his thirties, running from the lights of the big city to take over a book shop in the basement of a very ‘British’ East Anglian seaside town. There, he meets Edward Avon, who decides to enlist him for the creation of a ‘Republic of Literature’ in that place with few readers.
Edward is married to the ailing Deborah, a well-known scholar/specialist in/from the Arab world who was soon to die and was once a dark star in the UK intelligence services. Edward was also a spy with end of somewhat murky race. And Julian soon becomes intimate with Lily, daughter of the Avons. And there are great moments ranging from a funeral worthy of Evelyn Waugh to a fiery debriefing and a descent into the catacombs of the airport and a past that (in some trades) never quite comes to an end.
And there is the investigator and circus ‘hound’ Stewart ‘The Doctor’ Proctor, head of ‘domestic security’, who here takes on the role of Smiley (possible infidelity of his wife included). And, of course, at some point (that addition ‘Project’ emphasizes the top-secret in the title of the local edition) there was escape and desertion and revealing letter and ‘classified’ file from the times of the always ready to overheat Cold War that it is better not to open.
And that fixed and autobiographical obsession of the author: the unreliable yet alluring father figure. But here with a perhaps too compressed and curious theatrical and almost Victorian air and bordering on the most ironic comedy, dialogues that are too informative/expository/schematic (and yes, those abundant and almost nineteenth-century detours in masterpieces like ‘A perfect spy’ are strange ) and abundant ‘vaudeville’ coincidences (also echoes of ‘The ingenuous and sentimental lover’ by Le Carré himself). Everything applied to the old but always agile cat and mouse game (and who sets the trap or gets the cheese) and the successful obtaining of ‘twist’ in a somewhat abrupt ending, but it is also true that certain endings should be like that because they are endings.
part of a whole
Read now and in perspective, it is understood that ‘Silverview Project’ is perhaps a minor work but not the least of a major author. And that as such it should be more appreciated than judged, as part of a whole. The ‘Let It Be’ of the equivalent to The Beatles within the genre that Le Carré reinvented and evolved and here, yes, let it be and that closes a kind of trilogy Along with Le Carré’s two previous titles: ‘The Legacy of Spies’ (from 2017 and which, I think, should be understood and admired as his true black swan song and ‘Abbey Road’) and ‘A Decent Man’ (2019 ). All three turning and dizzying variations around the aria of internal investigations within the secret service concentrating more on the bureaucracy of their own malfunction than on the glamorous adventures with foreign enemies.
Sad and accusatory plots left and right with ‘Orwellian’ passion (where he betrays himself in order to be the most authentic of patriots) in which the The UK looks like it’s about to fall apart. to reconstitute itself as a colony of the USA/CIA, and where the until recently unbreakable James Bond ends up infected by a deadly virus and fragmented by missiles.
All the more discreet and phlegmatic, in ‘Project Silverview’, Le Carré says goodbye (for the moment, who knows if there is anything else in the files) raising an eyebrow and twisting his face and shrugging his shoulders but, as usual, without bowing some to nothing or no one.