While on holiday in Antigua with his barrister girlfriend, a young Oxford academic crosses paths with a Russian millionaire with Mafia connections who wants the young lovers to do something for him. Soon the guileless couple find themselves pawns in a deadly endgame whose outcome will be determined by the British Secret Service.
The characters are all exquisitely portrayed, the plot is crisp, and LeCarre leaves more questions than answers at the end, which is a nice change from a neatly wrapped package.
How all this comes together is a little confusing. The story is initially told in a disjointed fashion as Gale and Perry retell their meeting with Dima and his family to their MI6 handlers. Plus, the POV shifts a little too much for my taste--first Perry, then Gale, then Luke (one of the handlers). The POV ADD settles down about halfway through the book, and while it may have been a bit of a nuisance for me, it played well in to le Carre's overall purpose of the book.
You see, I don't think le Carre intended to write an espionage thriller. Of course, that's what he's known for in literary circles, but Our Kind of Traitor wasn't really all that thrilling. The plot is rather thin, and there's nothing particularly groundbreaking or riveting about it. But the book really shines with character development. le Carre develops well rounded, believable, dynamic characters. By the end of the book you'll feel as if Perry and Gale and even the MI6 crowd are people that quite probably do exist in real life. And with a novelist as undeniably skilled as le Carre, I have to believe that this was his goal--to focus more on character development in lieu of plot and intrigue. And that's the key if you're going to enjoy this book. You have to go into it with the expectation that you'll be reading a character study or a more benign novel that focuses on the development of personal relationships, because really, that's what the book is about. It's definitely not a spy thriller as le Carre's bibliography might lead you to believe.
The end is also very realistic, but it's also dissatisfying. I'll withhold the details so as not to spoil it for anyone thinking of reading the book (if you're dying to know, Wikipedia can tell you all); however, suffice to say that much of the conflict and tension in the novel--the struggle to get Dima's family to a safe place out of the clutches of his criminal masters--is not satisfactorily concluded. It's left hanging, and beyond a small summation with very few concrete details, it's left, I suppose, up to the reader to decide.
Given all of this, the novel felt to me kind of... halfway finished. It simply doesn't include all the facets to make it a well-rounded novel. It's as if le Carre wanted to experiment a little, wound up with something that was pretty good but not quite there, and his publishers went ahead and published it anyway (because let's face it--if it has "le Carre" on the cover, it's going to sell a hundred thousand copies even if the entire novel is a five year old's treatise on why Hot Wheels cars are the coolest). I enjoyed the novel, but I can't really recommend it to anyone else because, as far as le Carre goes, it's just not on par with his other works.
An acquired taste.
A young British couple, on a much deserved vacation, hoping to define their own relationship and decide on whether or not their future is with each other, unwittingly meet a master money launderer and stumble into a secret financial crisis which involves them into the hidden world of British spies and the Russian mob.
The book is very timely as it takes place in the present day with mention of current politicians and events that have recently occurred. The mystery itself evolves around the current financial crisis. It is, however, very fragmented and, as I wrote, until the final pages, the entire plot is not exposed. Although there is some finality, in the conclusion, there are still many questions about some of the characters, that remain unanswered and are left for the reader to decide. It made me wonder if perhaps there would be a sequel.
Our Kind Of Traitor is a tale of corrupt politicians, spy organizations that manipulate information for their own benefit, criminals and criminal governments, lies, payoffs, murder and mayhem, bribes, manipulation and coercion, really dirty politics, cheating and government-sponsored mobs.
In the tale, and I fear in real life, in this world of secrecy, the end justifies the means regardless of the consequences and the means are often highly questionable with the results being even more so.
Perry and Gina are innocent brits abroad. When they're approched on the tennis court by a friendly russian it's hard to say no. However the favour he asks for is stranger than they imagine, and soon they are meeting his widely extended family, of various 'uncles' and some very vulnerable children. Perry contacts some 'friends' in London, and the usual inter-agency squabbling ignites.
I like le Carre's writing, although he is not very direct when it comes to making his point, a lot of his more recent work is enjoyably cycnical regarding the operation of modern governement, and businesses. This is another such installment. From the final third of the book on you know what is going to happen, you read each page engrossed waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting, and waiting. Like the true masterteller he is, with empecable timing, does Le Carre deliever the ending you bothe expected and feared.
However this bvook doe slack the complexity of many of his better works, you only get to see one side of the argument, the assupmtions about the other, are all left to the reader. And while obvious, it doesn't provide the grey moral ambiguities that make a book superb. Likewise all the political infighting occurs behind closed doors, only the results are imparted by the boss to his leutenants. Although Gail and Perry start out well, they too quickly lose their qualms and end up devoting far too much of their time to a problem that they'd agreed was not any of their business. I could have understood this if they'd acted a bit more indeceive. But they don't.
Overall, le Carre is not at his very best form in this one, but it's still enjoyable, and far from bad.
About a third of the way through “Our Kind of Traitor”, I sat back and reflected on the elegance of the prose and the grace and ease with which the narrative moved back and forth through time, and two words came inescapably to mind: Joseph Conrad. I can't believe, after all the le Carré novels I had already read at that point, that this was the first time the comparison ever occurred to me, but there it is.
In a way, though, it's fitting that the realization came with that book: "Our Kind of Traitor" is an elegant novel, certainly an accomplished bit of storytelling, but I don't think anyone will ever rank it alongside “Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy” or “The Constant Gardener”. Yet I savored the book for the skill and grace with which it was written. This is what distinguishes Le Carré from somebody like Michael Crichton: he can be read with pleasure simply for the quality of his writing. Crichton is a wonderfully efficient storyteller, and as long as he's got a good tale to tell, he can be great fun to read. What he does is not easy, and at his best he does it very, very well. But I could never imagine sitting back, after reading a page of any one of his books, and simply savoring the language for its own sake. With John le Carré I find myself doing this all the time -- as I do with Raymond Chandler, another truly great writer who happened to work in "genre fiction".
Conrad was probably the originator of the literary thriller in which a compromised, emotionally tormented male protagonist, an anti-hero no less in the true sense, is placed centre-stage, in a morally ambiguous setting with all sorts of dark shades. And that is very much Le Carre’s model too.
It’s so very sharp and proficient (as, of course, is the plotting and structure). Some Le Carré detractors grumble about clichés and typical thriller language, but as far as I’m concerned (and I am, admittedly, a very big fan) they are only demonstrating their own philistinism in doing so. He does use the kind of colloquialisms and set phrases that you could dismiss as clichés elsewhere, but half of them he’s invented himself, and the other half he is using knowingly, with perfect confidence. There is nothing wrong with clichés if the writer is good enough to shepherd them around the page exactly as he wants, to be their master. They are only a problem if the writer isn’t good enough, and they come blundering in unbidden and out of control, often in the midst of pretentiously considered sentences. Le Carré, obviously, is plenty good enough. The pacing, the tone: it's all just brilliant, and as a literary device, the way the protagonist retreats deeper into his own repressed psychology as his own physical horizons are narrowed down and down is ever so clever. Love it; absolutely love it.
I think le Carré is seen as transcending the genre because he creates a world which is very believable even though I am sure that the Circus bears no resemblance to Britain's SIS. For a certain type of high minded reader who frets about such things, books that feature stuff that manifestly don't exist (dragons, amateur detectives, starships) are bothersome. They smell of flippancy and a departure from seriousness and worthiness which is not really acceptable to a reader who views reading as a stern and proper undertaking like a Calvinist at prayer. And I love SF...
SF = Speculative Fiction.
A sad falling off from an author who has, hitherto, been so rewarding to his loyal readers.
You know, John le Carre is a great writer and his books are very interesting but the ones I've read couldn't really have been called thrillers. They were good but most of the action takes place off stage. This book is a thriller. It takes a while to build up but when it does it is riveting.
Plus the moral ambiguity is fascinating. Have you ever been in a position where you don't know who you could trust. Or maybe you trust the guy you are dealing with but are not sure about the people he is dealing with, who happen to be the real decision makers. But at the same time you have to commit or not. Have you? This book is all about that.
Gail and Perry, a lawyer and a teacher, decide to take a romantic trip to Antigua. There they meet a man named Dima and his family. In no time at all, they find themselves buried in international secrets and dealing with the Service. How much can two non-spies help?
The novel is written in an odd way. In some segments, there's a frame story. Some are in first person. Others are in 3rd. Some present tense, some past tense. We bounce around first between Perry and Gail, then over to one of the three agents that work with them. Despite what I thought, it really makes for a quick read.
The story itself was engaging. You wanted to know what happened to Perry, Gail and Dima. You wanted to see if everything would turn out alright and how the subplots ended up. Though I found myself a bit ambivalent toward Natasha's story, I still wanted to figure out just what happened.
Which brings me into something I didn't like so much - his characterization of the females in the novel. They were all GORGEOUS except for the god-loving Tamara. Every male character commented on how beautiful Gail was and I feel like she was there more for beauty than for her brains. She's a lawyer and the only time it really comes up is when she has to sign something. Sometimes, she even seems a bit flighty. Though, I did appreciate her aggrivation at her treatment as the "weaker sex" during certain points.
The ending came about as I expected it to. Using something that is literally from the newspapers made it that way, but it also gives the story a more realistic depth that I think readers of this type of fiction could appreciate.
(Disclaimer: I received this book as an advanced uncorrected proof from Viking)
Lynn chose this book because we had enjoyed reading other John le Carre books and it was his latest. She thought we might need some light reading for the Christmas holidays. She didn't find it very engaging and felt he didn't finish it off very well. What happened to the family? Plot got lost in the middle, it was a bit disappointing.
Enjoyed it but it was a bit disappointing in the middle. Maybe the author is getting old! It was easy to read but all over the show. Was he trying to do something different? Was Perry going to go after Max? What happened in the middle? It was not realistic that Gail should suddenly become maternal and know how to handle children so well!It was cliched and undeveloped. Not nearly enough development of the characters. Good read, kept me interested. The end was too abrupt it was left to your imagination.
5,5,6,6,6,8,8,7,7,7,5 ( 6.36 average )
Keeps you guessing what is going to happen.
Glad I read this book.