Spies

Dot writes: I’ve been reading again, thanks to a family trip to the library which allowed me an unaccustomed escape from the children’s section. I read Single and Single, by John Le Carre, The Telling, by Ursula Le Guin, Nothing is Black, by Deirdre Madden, and now another John Le Carre, A Perfect Spy. It’s supposed to be his best or one of his best (jacket blurb, imperfectly remembered) but so far, although I’m enjoying it, I also want to give it a bit of a shake and tell it to get to the point, you irritating book. Why all the stuff about this man’s childhood and why can’t it decide whether to be in the first person or the third? His masters in spying think (I think) that he is a double agent who has done a bunk, but he seems in fact to be hanging about in a lodging house in Devon getting an old lady good deals on her groceries. Something awfully exciting is going on, apparently, but what is it? Why must the wretched book go on like a well-educated gossip who talks beautifully and for hours without ever being indelicate enough to state in plain terms what the hot news actually is? I have this horrible feeling I may never be well up enough in Le Carre-speak to find out what Pym was doing.

I mentioned that I’ve also just read a novel by Deirdre Madden. She happens to be one of my colleagues at Trinity and I saw her this morning as I was going into college (for a meeting, accompanied by Frank). I felt oddly queasy meeting her, as though I’d been doing something rather sticky and underhand by reading her book; as though I’d been passing by her house not entirely by chance and peering through her windows. Which is silly, given she’s a published writer and is employed at Trinity because she is a writer and presumably wants people to read her books. But there is a dissonance between the rather slight degree to which I personally know her (and her air of being self-sufficient and somewhat quiet and utterly unvulgar) and the great intimacy of borrowing her novelistic perspective on the world. It feels a bit like spying.

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