Book Review: The Night Manager by John Le Carré

The Night Manager - John le Carré - Header

Having only recently discovered the true delights of reading a book from cover to cover I have turned into something of a literacy sponge, soaking up anything and everything, picking recommendations from family members, social media and even celebrities; if someone I like, trust or follow says they enjoyed a book, chances are I’ll add it to my “wish list” and eventually read it. Whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.

And it’s because I’m a fan of Hugh Laurie that when I heard him speak in an interview with Empire Magazine about his love for John Le Carré’s The Night Manager and how it was his wish to always star in any adaptation of it, that I decided to read it. After all, I had heard of Le Carré from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and for reasons of simple fan adoration didn’t believe Laurie could let me down!

Hugh Laurie Throwing Book - The Night Manager by John Le Carré

How wrong I can be though! I have never given up on a book and have written before about how I don’t understand people who’d get 20 pages into a story, declare they didn’t like it and move on to something else. I believe in giving things a go, but this time around, I came very, very close to joining their ranks.

To say I didn’t get on with The Night Manager is an understatement, by the time I’d reached 150 pages into my ebook version (which was only 359 pages long) I truly had such little grasp on why the story was unfolding as it was that I very nearly gave it up. I had met the characters involved but their motives and the structure that bound them together had become such a tangled mess that as soon as I delved beneath the surface of the story I didn’t have a clue as to what was really going on. I was fine following the superficial plot, the basic outline, and the relationships and events that had transpired to reach the main turning point in the story, but I couldn’t explain how A connected to B and on to C, and therefore, the I couldn’t understand the all important why?

Crowd Of People - The Night Manager by John Le Carré

And the more I tried to find the answer, the worse it became. There are too many characters involved with too many different agendas to work it out. I just become lost in a political thriller with no idea who was superior to who or how they connected together. And because I was so confused into the wider details of the book I was completely unable to form any imagery in my head. As a new scene would start, or characters reintroduced I wouldn’t bring back previous memories, but rather have to wait for the fog to clear and for the plot to simplify. It was individual moments painted in my mind once they’d begun but always fading in and out from black.

And that sense of isolated imagery ran throughout the whole book. I will admit though, that the longer the story went on and the more it focused singularly on the main character rather than the web of management behind him, the easier the plot became to follow. Essentially as the cast list was cut to a handful the book became better. I was still never fully happy with the pictures in my head of the characters involved or the world they inhabited. Forming them through constant repetition rather than clear description and pictured through necessity more than anything else. I certainly found my middle third of the book the easiest to follow and most enjoyable, even if I couldn’t describe any character to you now with confidence.

I just found the story frustrating because for some reason, it feels interesting interesting and yet overwhelmingly boring. There are moments of basic emotion as this game of cat and mouse espionage unfolds, there were moments when I’d be swept along for the ride, and feel a bond to the main character and the plight he potentially faced. It never got my pulse racing or heart pounding, but for the odd moment I’d just feel it on my skin, those fleeting anxious moments wondering what would happen next.

Spy Folder - The Night Manager by John Le Carré

All my problem stem though from the way it’s written. It seems to be completely confused about how it wants to present itself. It’s essentially just a series of longer and longer conversations, everything is told by characters interacting. Somebody telling something to someone else. And that meant that after page and page of dialogue it became almost impossible to follow who was speaking and when. And this confused presentation is compounded by the fact that some conversation where presented looking back in the third person, other played out “as live” in the first. It just becomes impossible to follow as alias intermingle with the past and present and character after character has their say. In the end I must have reread numerous passages desperately trying to work out what was going on and how it all game together into the bigger picture.

I’m glad to say that I did manage to finish the book! I battled through, but I never connected and I certainly haven’t enjoyed it. The story never really gets going or changes pace and then, when monotony has already struck, just peters out into nothingness. It just goes limp and weak and while never gripping, it loses what little strength it did ever had. I felt the book as a whole just lacked definition or any purpose and I really can’t find many redeeming features. Character motives are never clear, the story just whimpers along and the language feels outdated in comparison to the time frame it’s set, if it hadn’t constantly reminded me about the Gulf War I’d have sworn it was set in the 1950s. I am not going to belittle Hugh Laurie for indirectly influencing me into a book I have ended up hating. After all, I still plan to read his own novel The Gun Seller at some point in the future, but for now, I think I’ve reached a point where I will question the recommendations I follow a little bit more closely, and certainly, won’t be returning to John Le Carré any time soon.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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