Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: 3/5 Stars
Sometimes when I have seen the movie version of a book first, I run out the same day and find a copy of the book. Sometimes I even go read books for movies coming out even if I have no desire to see the movie, just in case I ACCIDENTALLY see the movie. I am not saying it’s sane; it’s just what I do. With this one, I saw the movie a few years back and I think I liked it a lot, but I am not sure I liked this book much at all. So when I saw the movie it was in DC at the E Street theater which has this wonderful rule where they will sell you a beer. But they only allowed to sell you one, so sometimes you can pay double the price and get double the beer in one cup. Get it? And since DC was pretty early in the craft beer market and craft IPAs are great and pretty hefty in alcohol, it was like 3-3.5 beers when it comes down to it. So that was my state going into the theater. Also the movie has tremendous costumes, sets, atmosphere, music, sideburns, and actors. And the effect of a movie that comes out in 2011 or so telling a 1970s story about the Cold War is that of a heavy atmospheric historical thriller.
A book simply set in the time period that it’s written doesn’t automatically have the same kind of trappings. And I think that’s what’s happened here. It’s well-written, it’s perfectly good, and the mystery at the heart is solid. But it’s a small book where not a lot happens and the stakes are 50 years out of date. And the stakes, because in part it’s about a retired spy having felt pushed out coming back, don’t feel adequate to the task of keeping me that interested. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t really like it, but I tolerated it enough to finish it, but it was kind of rough in the final stretch.
Written on the Body: 4/5 Stars
I read The Passion in college and really loved it. It has a tremendous opening line and is so delicious and savory throughout. This book is also very good, with wonderful prose, but doesn’t feel as rich. It’s still a really good novel. The narrator is not actually genderless….it seems clear that it is a man or a woman as a character….but the narrator itself does not ever reveal their gender. If it sounds gimmicky, it’s not really. There’s no big reveal at the end and the novel doesn’t have to go to any pains to keep it gender neutral. And that’s an obvious strength for me. Instead, it simply shows that gender is fairly immaterial to the feelings and actions and motivations of the character. That’s the seeming point. I also think that if you went into this not knowing that was the case and not knowing much about the writer, you might reveal some hidden biases about yourself as a reader. I mean the characters’ race is never mentioned either. I don’t have strong opinions about whether or not the narrator was male or female, but my own position in the world makes me feel like it’s a man. And in the same vein, he’s probably white.
But it’s not a puzzle to be solved, simply a mystery to be considered.
The story is about a person having an affair with a woman (that part is clear) and trying to figure out what their next steps are. There’s a lot of really nice conversations about art and literature, there’s some strong writing riffing off of scientific descriptions of the the body, and there’s a heartfelt and painful relationship story throughout.
When Will There Be Good News?: 4/5 Stars
So this is the third book of the series and like the previous entry “One Good Turn” this one is stronger than the original book. There’s almost no mystery anymore, but there is a crime and definitely a plot. And also of course there’s a whole load of coincidences and linked themed events.
Jackson finds himself married but thinking about the police inspector he left behind who he also finds out is also married. His new wife is off to America and as you do, he goes up north to steal a hair from the son of his former fiance, a son who he is convinced is his son. So like you do, he steals a hair off a random kid in the park. And so he gets back on a train to London and ends up on the wrong line and heads farther north up to Scotland.
There, we come across the other storylines of this novel. This novel is about orphans leftover from violent deaths. Dr. Hunter is the only survivor of a gruesome murder from 25 years earlier and she has met Reggie whose own mother died drunk and drowned a year before. They are friends, and then a trainwreck that Jackson was on upends the town and Dr. Hunter goes missing. A very broken Jackson and a a very perky Reggie have to try to find her. Also Jackson thinks he is dying or has died, maybe.
It all sounds ridiculous but I liked it a lot. I will be reading the last book before too long and you’ll see. You’ll see!