restricted access The Quest for le Carré (review)
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Reviewed by
Alan Bold, ed. The Quest for le Carré. New York: St. Martin's, 1988. 216 pp. $35.00.

Alan Bold's strategy for seeking John le Carré is an intriguing one. Rather than turn to those who have already written about his fiction, Bold has called on experts in other fields and asked them to look at le Carré from the perspective provided by their special areas of knowledge. Unfortunately, the product of this inspiration is, by and large, not a happy one. Too many of the essays, including the editor's own introduction, are poorly written and unfocused, showing every indication of hasty composition. As editor, Bold must take much of the blame for the technical flaws not only in his own piece but also in those of his contributors. But rigorous editorial practice alone could not have saved the several essays that simply do not have much to say. It seems that having cast bait on the waters, Bold could not nerve himself to reject any of his catch.

The puniest of all Bold's sprats is Trevor Royle's "Le Carré and the Idea of Espionage," which pads out a minimal assessment of le Carré's fiction with a quite unoriginal and rather pointless potted history of spying and the spy novel. Almost as inconsequential and much more disappointing is Vivian Greene's personal reminiscence of David Cornwell. Apart from a rather touching account of a journey through the Swiss Alps with the impoverished undergraduate Cornwell, the man who is supposedly a major model for George Smiley has almost nothing to offer that cannot be gleaned from other sources, particularly le Carré's own reminiscence about his father, Ronnie Cornwell.

The essays by Margaret Rowe, Owen Edwards, and Robert Giddings are rather more substantial but nevertheless do not significantly advance the search for le Carré. Rowe can only reassert what has often been said before, that le Carré does not have much understanding of women; Edwards finds allusions to Doyle, Wodehouse, and others in le Carré's novels but fails to explain their function; and Giddings, while cleverly demonstrating the use of cinematic technique in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, wastes most of his space on a mini-history of the relationship between literature and the technology of production and distribution. [End Page 823]

The appearance in print of Melvyn Bragg's television interview with le Carré about The Little Drummer Girl is to be welcomed because it allows the author to add his voice to the debate aroused by this controversial novel. However, I wonder about the collection's one reprint, of Glenn Most's analysis of le Carré's relationship to detective fiction, because this admittedly sound essay has already been published in two other places.

Remaining are the two best contributions to the collection, Robert Crehan's "Information, Power, and the Reader" and Philip O'Neill's "Le Carré: Faith and Dreams," both of which excel in their serious involvement with the texts of le Carré's novels. Close analysis of this kind is surely the means by which further discoveries about le Carré will be made, given that a number of books offering an overview of his achievement already exist.

David Monaghan
Mount Saint Vincent University