‘The Night Manager’ by John leCarré

It is hard to summarise a novel about spying without giving too much away.  I shall stick to the limits of the copy on the back of my secondhand paperback edition.  There is a big game afoot involving arms trading and intelligence operatives, and on occasion those involved conduct their business in hotels.  A hotelier by the name of Jonathan Pine is unfortunate enough to be just the right man for the job.  I hope that is not too vague.

I must confess to a bit of a bias here; I first encountered leCarré’s writing (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) in audiobook form at the start of a romantic relationship.  Not only do I hear a wonderful voice as I read leCarré’s prose these days, but I suspect a lot of my appreciation for his stuff is tied into positive personal associations and experiences.

All associations and personal taste aside, leCarré is one of my favourite writers for characterisation.  There is just something about the language and mannerisms of his characters.  Even though I felt quite distant from the characters at times, I came away with a distinct feeling that I had met the people themselves.  leCarré has a way of being entirely honest about the ways that humans are hideous to each other and themselves without vilifying or condemning them.

The true villain is obvious, of course, in the story.  But there’s none of the blame or reduction to a caricature that can occur to side-characters; a lot of villains in my experience of thrillers tend to be completely reprehensible and selfish, often acting simply for financial gain or out of fear.  leCarré’s villains tend to be unclassifiable; there are personal nuances that derail situations, human moments in all characters that the reader can resonate with.  Heroes themselves are just as deceitful and manipulative and driven as their foils are, and the real moral dilemma are not of positive versus negative personalities, but sympathetic versus destructive end goals.

In The Night Manager the observational habits of Jonathan Pine and the efforts of Burr to support him hooking Roper the villain showcase this quite well.  What is most climactic about the novel is perhaps not the actual crisis and resolution, but the changing attitudes of bit-players; wives, lovers, and children and how they either are kept ignorant of events or rationalise their own ethical viewpoints with the lives they lead.  There is so much to it that I cannot really explain it here; you might as well read the book itself because you really can only earn these moments through context and immersion.

I was not expecting the end of the book, which is partly my own fault; I’ve read some of his more recent, more issue-based novels in the last few years and I was half expecting a bleaker, more tragic resolution.  Not that the ending was not wonderful, of course, but in retrospect the highest point for me was that initial delight as the leads and bit players were introduced and I could revel in the intimate insightful glimpses into their psyches.  I suspect I shall always remember the wig story, even though those involved dropped out of the story’s focus only a few pages or so in.  I could not stop smiling, reading that scene.  It’s not often that a  book provokes such delight in my heart.

Other reviews of The Night Manager:

At Entertainment Weekly a somewhat spoiler-ridden one, but quite positve.

Between the Covers reveals even more, but has some insight on characterisation and storytelling.

Oh dear, in fact, all the reviews I can find seem to reveal all the plot.  There aren’t any huge secrets or twists, but I do feel that coming to The Night Manager unaware of the exact ending and the major events was a great reading experience, one that I would not want to rob anyone else of.  Please consider reading the book before diving into any other reviews!

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