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Old 01-14-2019, 09:40 AM   #1
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February 2019 Discussion • A Delicate Truth by John le Carré

A Delicate Truth by John le Carré is the February selection for the New Leaf Book Club.



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A Delicate Truth is a 2013 spy novel by John le Carré. Set in 2008 and 2011, the book features a British/American covert mission in Gibraltar and the subsequent consequences for two British civil servants.

Le Carré describes this as not only his most British novel but also his most autobiographical work in years.

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Old 02-15-2019, 06:36 AM   #2
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It's time to discuss A Delicate Truth. What did we think of it?
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Old 02-15-2019, 06:45 AM   #3
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I think... that I'm still on hold at the library! Oh well, might be able to join in before the end of the month.
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Old 02-15-2019, 06:52 AM   #4
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It was my first Le Carré, and almost certainly my last. I read fiction to escape reality, not to be reminded of it, and so the matter-of-fact reality of the story was very depressing for me. I found the story well told, and the characters well-drawn, but by the time I'd reached the inevitable end, the feeling that what I'd read barely qualified as fiction at all left me feeling flat and in urgent need of some frothy escapism. I salute his skill as a writer, and strongly sympathise with his obvious anger at the system he writes about, but for me the entertainment value of the book was only non-zero by a statistically insignificant amount.
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Old 02-15-2019, 07:08 AM   #5
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I was not particularly impressed or unimpressed either way. Years ago, I listened to the audiobook of The Spy Who Came in From The Cold. I remember little about it save for how it ended. I rated it two stars on Goodreads in 2011.

As I was reading A Delicate Truth, about half way through I started wondering if this wasn't going to end the same way. And it did. You could see the ending coming from a mile away. A good man, trying to do the right thing by a newly met woman that he was vaguely attracted to gets them both black-bagged in the end. I am not sure what it says about the current state of affairs or the political climate that was wholly unsurprised.

I felt like the portrait of the rich, stupid Americans was a bit overcooked and not worthy of Le Carre's usual sophistication. But I felt that way of the entire novel - it was written via machete rather than scalpel.
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Old 02-15-2019, 09:14 AM   #6
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It's quite a few years since I last attempted a John le Carré novel. It had always seemed to me that he came up with some excellent stories and great characters ... but then sucked the life out of them with his presentation*. I thought (hoped) maybe he might have improved since I last tried.

Sadly, A Delicate Truth demonstrated only his ability to suck the life out of a story, and in this case I don't think there was a great story, or characters, in here to start with.

The story seemed clumsily told and the character of "Paul Anderson" (Kit) was inconsistent and not really credible in any of his roles. The character of Toby was a little better, but not a lot. Both Toby and Emily seem quite indistinct, not fully real/there in the story. The abrupt end, while not inappropriate, was predictable and left me feeling as if the work getting to the end was a waste of effort.

I normally like to find something positive to say, but at the moment I'm struggling. I gave it a 2/5 and feel like I might have been generous.


* To explain my comment on the what-are-you-reading thread, I tend to think of le Carré as best served in adaptation (film), where someone else as done the hard work of digging out the story and characters.
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Old 02-15-2019, 10:14 AM   #7
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I hate it. I'm struggling through it, but it is painful.
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Old 02-15-2019, 11:56 AM   #8
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Well, that was unpleasant.

One of the reasons I generally choose the books I do is that I like to see things that turn out better than expected and that have some sort of hope, or at least where the bad guys get some form of come-uppance. This was just depressing. Watching Kit, Emily, and Toby all end up in worse situations and hopeless ones at that is not fun to read. Maybe it is more realistic than 99.44/100ths of other thriller books but that's not why I read books. I can read the news for depressing stories. Maybe he is just trying to subvert the trope of the hero winning at the end due to some luck and daring do. (Some tropes are there for a reason!)

That said, I do enjoy Le Carre's writing. It is different enough from other "thriller" writers to be engaging, if only as a change of pace. I don't think I could read more than one of his books in a row without getting depressed though, even if the ending was more satifying. Other than the abrupt change of viewpoint, time, and setting between chapters 2 and 3, I was completely lost about who this Kit guy was and how this tied into the main story for almost all of chapter 3, I did enjoy actually reading this. It obviously didn't go where I hoped it would go but it was interesting enough to keep me engaged after I understood chapter 3. I haven't read any other books where they are trying to expose a cover-up like this.
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Old 02-15-2019, 02:19 PM   #9
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Quote:
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I felt like the portrait of the rich, stupid Americans was a bit overcooked and not worthy of Le Carre's usual sophistication. But I felt that way of the entire novel - it was written via machete rather than scalpel.
The outrage trumped the intrigue, is how I phrased it at Goodreads.

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The story seemed clumsily told and the character of "Paul Anderson" (Kit) was inconsistent and not really credible in any of his roles.
I entirely agree with this. Paul was a total buffoon. Kit was much better. He was a terrific people person and you could see he'd have been a good diplomat, especially in places where it was mostly to wave the flag.

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The abrupt end, while not inappropriate, was predictable and left me feeling as if the work getting to the end was a waste of effort.
There was a lot of stupid going on here, most especially in regard to letters, files and so forth and how discoverable they all were. Why would any of them, Kit, Jeb, Toby, think that they'd be able to change things and that they wouldn't be found out and obliterated?

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Well, that was unpleasant.

One of the reasons I generally choose the books I do is that I like to see things that turn out better than expected and that have some sort of hope, or at least where the bad guys get some form of come-uppance. ]/quote]

Maybe they did at that, but it boils down to how high the rot goes. It seems as if Toby was able to get his files sent before the sirens started. Will there be a Katharine Graham at the receiving end? Or will it be David Pecker?

That said, I do enjoy Le Carre's writing. It is different enough from other "thriller" writers to be engaging, if only as a change of pace.
I have a lot of issues with the book and I'm sure we'll get to them, but there was a lot I enjoyed about it, also. This was absolutely a page-turner, from the start in medias res, to teasing out who the players were, to jumping around in the action and the point of view. The writing evoked action, timing and consequence.

Ultimately, though, here's where it fell flat for me, and maybe I'm just too jaded ten years after the book was published and given what's going on in the world; I didn't think the collateral death of an illegal migrant and her baby would have been sufficient as the first cause of all this, especially not for a career soldier and foreign office wonks who've signed on to the Official Secrets Act. It needed to be more.
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Old 02-15-2019, 03:16 PM   #10
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Ultimately, though, here's where it fell flat for me, and maybe I'm just too jaded ten years after the book was published and given what's going on in the world; I didn't think the collateral death of an illegal migrant and her baby would have been sufficient as the first cause of all this, especially not for a career soldier and foreign office wonks who've signed on to the Official Secrets Act. It needed to be more.
I totally agree here. When the circumstances were unknown it was good. As soon as we found out what happened it was like "what's the big deal?" Yes, it was a tragedy but this much of one? No, I don't buy that.
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Old 02-15-2019, 03:30 PM   #11
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I totally agree here. When the circumstances were unknown it was good. As soon as we found out what happened it was like "what's the big deal?" Yes, it was a tragedy but this much of one? No, I don't buy that.

I wonder if it was inspired by a real event. Le Carré's anger at the commercialisation of politics and the military is so palpable in the book, that perhaps it's a veiled vent at something that actually happened. The tone of it reminded me of some of Pratchett's later works, when his disgust for the politics he was satirising wore the sheen off his usual detached humour.
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Old 02-15-2019, 04:18 PM   #12
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Definitely worth my time

Well Gee, I really enjoyed the book, ....probably enjoy isn’t quite the right word. I was motivated to keep reading, and found it a rewarding read.

This is my first by Le Carre. I’ve avoided him thinking he writes ‘thrillers”. I don’t enjoy the physical feeling of suspence and usually feel emotionally manipulated if I have to keep looking over my shoulder - which then annoys me, and pulls me out of the story. So I was impressed by how Le Carre approached his work. He had a story to tell and he told it without cheap stunts and superfluous drama. I feel badly that I had pigeonholed him that way.

It was a bit of a busman’s holiday for me, and that probably clouds my take on the book - that’s the part I found facinating. I spent some time in government before I retired. I thought his portrayal of Quinn and Oakley were dead on. I’ve observed that horrid bullying of Kit when he met with the FS mouthpiece and their attack lawyer. And I’ve met folks like Kit and Toby as well. I’m familiar with the cultural tactics used by gov to keep everyone in their preferred slots.

The other point I’d make is that I probably won’t read more of Le Carre. However I’m very pleased that participating in New Leaf forced me to branch out and try a different genre than I wouldn’t have otherwise. I would never have picked up that book. Thanks!

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Old 02-15-2019, 05:01 PM   #13
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I totally agree here. When the circumstances were unknown it was good. As soon as we found out what happened it was like "what's the big deal?" Yes, it was a tragedy but this much of one? No, I don't buy that.
I saw that a bit differently, again, maybe because of my work. I thought the issue wasn’t that the woman and child died, but why they died. Their deaths were 100% avoidable, had proper military and intelligence protocols and procedures been observed.

Whenever you are dealing with life and death situations (police, mental health, emergency medicine, firefighters etc) there are mandatory protocols and procedures that are part of a formal risk management system. Rigorous training on them are a critical component of professional training. Practioners are licensed, and regulated, and held accountable in terms of following those procedures.

For example, we understand that tradegy happens, and people will be lost in the emergency room. (Or war, etc.). But it’s unacceptable if someone is lost because the doctor was too drunk to perform the correct procedure.

If the incompetence is system wide, because the hospital administrator knowlingly hires completely unqualified medical staff so he can get a cut on the side, it should be an outrage. That’s what Quinn and a faction within Whitehall were doing.

An exchange that really struck me was between Toby and a Horst in Berlin, when Horst told him Quinn was trying to get Horst’s boss to informally invest in the private corp. “Information collected and disseminated in the private sphere only. Unadulterated. Untouched by government hands.” I read that as being outside the formal risk management system, and completely outside any public accoutability.

Sorry for the long diatribe. I worked within a completely different sphere, but which has similar risk management protocols and procedures. So this book just happened to grab me I guess. I won’t make a habit of ranting
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Old 02-15-2019, 05:14 PM   #14
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The outrage trumped the intrigue, is how I phrased it at Goodreads
I agree. I stopped thinking of it as a novel - more like an autobiography that’s partially fictionalized in order to stay within the law. I thought he was watching a carefully constructed, century old, international system between Western allies being pulled to the ground, and was trying to blow a careful whistle.
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Old 02-15-2019, 05:18 PM   #15
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Well, that was unpleasant.
Yes, wasn't it?!

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There was a lot of stupid going on here, most especially in regard to letters, files and so forth and how discoverable they all were. Why would any of them, Kit, Jeb, Toby, think that they'd be able to change things and that they wouldn't be found out and obliterated?
Yes, there was a lot of stupid going on. Sadly.

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I have a lot of issues with the book and I'm sure we'll get to them, but there was a lot I enjoyed about it, also. This was absolutely a page-turner, from the start in medias res, to teasing out who the players were, to jumping around in the action and the point of view. The writing evoked action, timing and consequence.
I've read several books by Le Carré over the years, and I've mostly enjoyed them. Sometimes the writing seemed a bit disjointed, but it worked for me. On this one? Totally disjointed, and given everything, really unpleasant. I feel a strong need to go read a Georgette Heyer to take the taste out of my mouth. Or maybe a bit of P.G. Wodehouse.

IAC, a stretch to 2 stars for me, and I'm really disappointed, since I was quite looking forward to it.
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