Absolute Friends – John LeCarre

Little, Brown
2004

Recommended by Jon, and my first LeCarre novel
(after this, I think there will be more). This most recent work tries to figure out the world post-Cold War, in regards to spies, while backtracking and flashbacking to show the making of lead character and double agent Teddy Mundy. LeCarre evokes 1968 Berlin well–a hotbed of student activism–and what comes after, and Mundy’s relationship with a fellow activist, also spy, called Sasha. We then follow his rather centerless, wandering life, never really sure of his identity (as the author points out, spies have to operate under an enforced and necessary schizophrenia.) Finally, we catch up with Teddy in the present day, long after the fallen Berlin Wall has put an end to Teddy and Sasha’s careers. Now Sasha has come a’calling, with an offer.
LeCarre has been criticized for turning the last couple of chapters into a diatribe against the Bush Administration. He does get out some zingers: “It was an old Colonial oil war dressed up as a crusade for Western life and liberty, and it was launched by a clique of war-hungry Judaeo-Christian geopolitical fantasists who hijacked the media and exploited America’s post-Nine Eleven psychopathy.”
Like Seymour Hersh, LeCarre believes we’ve been taken over by a cult. And it should not surprise you that I think that way too. But the reviewers make it appear that this is just a context-less rant. It’s not. The novel is a traditional LeCarre spy narrative upended suddenly and violently by dismal post-911 realism. It’s Smiley’s People with the ending of Costas-Gravas’ “Z”. The fundamentalists on both sides are working towards the same goals, and both are enemies of reason. It’s a sock-knockin’-off ending, and expects you to jolt awake from it.

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