Monday, October 10, 2005


I picked this up in mass market paperback at the airport on my way to Ohio last month. I believe it is the most recent book by John le Carre, though the copyright was 2003. My husband and I are both le Carre fans. We do not think he wrote "good" books and "bad" books, as some critics claim. We like them all. I have not read The Constant Gardener, but I remember seeing only non-glowing reviews when it came out, although it seems like every critic and their brother love the movie.

But Absolute Friends is something very special. What is it about this author? This book is the epitome of how I feel these days. The world is fucked and you do your best to make a difference, but does it or can it really make a difference? One of the friends is Edward Mundy, born in 1947, the son of an English army officer in Pakistan, whose mother died in childbirth, whose father lost his way when Pakistan overthrew British rule, and who ends up as a spy. Actually during the Cold War, he is a double agent spying for England on communists in East Germany.

The other friend is Sasha, son of a German Lutheran fascist minister and a double agent spying for East German communists. Are you confused yet? I had to really pay attention to keep everyone straight, but I like books that are a bit more strenuous than watching TV. The two met as young activists against Imperialism and the Vietnam War in the 60s. They were both part of a group in Berlin, of which Sasha was the leader and the one who had a philosophy and a vision.

The story begins in the present and moves through back story to the tragic denouement. The confusion is actually a brilliant complexity of two life stories that entwine and lead inexorably to where they both arrive at the end, brilliant because it is their very involvement in world events that determines their destiny. The thread of dread is always there: the masters of war, the fascistic military-industrial complex of greed, the children of wars and the confused parents who are the children of earlier wars and class conflicts. Communism fails, the Berlin Wall comes down, but within a decade it is all replaced by terrorism.

John le Carre is anti the whole mess: the governments of England and the USA, the war in Iraq, the criminal disregard for any form of true statesmanship in favor of greed and money. He is showing us that Nineteen Eighty-Four was all true even though it is our own "democratic" governments who are creating this brave new world.

Well, I believe all of it. I just do not see clearly these days how to effect a change in the course of mankind's destiny. (Don't worry, I am not depressed or apathetic. I still try in my various ways. Including writing this blog to get the word out that there is about 1000 percent more truth in fiction than in the news or on TV.) Ted Mundy and Sasha are martyrs to freedom but I am concerned that enough people will ever understand that.


  1. Absolute Friends is indeed a great book. I mean, it's great fun, I mean, it's not Moby Dick great but it's a great read. I didn't much like the ending, but I won't ruin it for you if you haven't gotten there, yet.

    My favorite line: "The England that awaits the young Mundy is a rain-swept cemetery for the living dead powered by a forty-watt bulb."

    Have you read A Perfect Spy? One of the best books I ever read, ever. I've yet to tackle the Smiley/Karla triology; saving them, somehow. I had read Spy/Cold long ago, didn't really get it, then rented the disks of Tinker, Tailor and Smiley's People - BBC productions from 79 and 82, starring Alec Guiness, and easily some of the best TV ever produced. And then, boom, the light went on. And in those disks, if you've not seen them, is an interview with Le Carre himself, which is worth the price of admission.
    There is a good TV production of A Perfect Spy, too, which is only on VHS, I believe.

  2. the ralph fiennes i love is back in the constant gardener..

  3. I read The Spy Who Came in From The Cold in 1993. I read it because I am a total Joni Mitchell fan and she has a song called "Come In From The Cold", so I wanted to see if le Carre's book was somehow an influence. I was so ignorant that I didn't even know that "come in from the cold" was a saying in spy work. But anyway that is when I discovered what a unique approach to the spy novel was Carre's.

    I also read The Little Drummer Girl later that year and was again blown away. Next I am going to read The Constant Gardener, because the movie is getting such raves, but I hate seeing a movie before I've read the book. (See my post on About A Boy.)

    After that I will read the rest of the books in the order in which they
    were published, which is my current general reading plan.

    But I am thrilled to know that there are films of the books mentioned here in the comments section.

    Excuse my ignorance, but who is Ralph Fiennes?