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Old 02-19-2019, 08:03 PM   #61
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I'm with Victoria on this. Yes, Toby was breaking rules to make the recording, but Quinn was clearly breaking a great many more.

I liked the term "solitary decider" also. Toby is the whistleblower, a man with ethics when there are precious few of them on display anywhere else.

You may have noted in the Acknowledgements that le Carré expressed his thanks and admiration for Carne Ross,
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former British foreign servant and founder and director of the not-for-profit Independent Diplomat, who by his example demonstrated the perils of speaking a delicate truth to power. Without Carne's example before me, and his pithy advice in my ear, this book would have been the poorer.
I looked Carne Ross up and found that he had testified to the Butler Review, directly contradicting the British position on the justification behind the invasion of Iraq.

In Australia, we have our own version of Carne Ross, a man called Andrew Wilkie, and one of the few of our parliamentarians who has my respect. (Unsurprisingly, he's an independent.)

He was a senior figure in Australian intelligence and felt so strongly about what was being fabricated as an excuse for our involvement in that same invasion that he resigned his post and then gave information to a trusted journalist.

And what do you know: the response of the government was to denigrate him as much as they could. He wasn't very senior (he was); he was in a fragile mental state because of recently separating from his wife (he wasn't); and so on. And of course Australia went ahead with the rest of the gang, and in due course it was shown that everything that Wilkie had said was absolutely correct and true.
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Old 02-19-2019, 09:02 PM   #62
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My memory of the timeline is a little shaky and the book has returned to the library so I can't check. Wasn't this after Giles set Toby on Quinn? Although once we find out more of Giles's backstory, I wonder that he'd want to rattle the cages at all (the decision he came to himself, eventually, but I think it would have been sooner). [...]
The quote was from the start of chapter two where Toby was first introduced. As I understand the slightly confused timeline of chapter two, at this point Toby had set up the recording of the meeting but not yet collected it. The operation itself had not yet gone ahead.

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Wow - we’re almost polar opposites in how we rate the characters I thought Toby was supposed to be the hero and the actual reason for the story, while Quinn was the crook.
[...]
Thank you for your detailed response, it is interesting to see another take on the book.

I think my previous post was a little bit ... not tongue in cheek, but maybe devil's advocate. I can see how le Carré expected us to react, but as is my habit with books I'm not enjoying, I found my entertainment in being picky/contrary.

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I also felt that we were asked to swallow a lot. Having Toby break the law by recording Quinn seems absurd when all he had to do was call up his boss and report Quinn’s behaviour. I decided that Le Carré was telling a fable or parable, so having it hang together logically wasn’t important to him. [...]
Yes, it seems to me that le Carré knew Toby was behaving strangely, he introduces Toby as a criminal. He then goes on to tell us how neglectful Toby is of his girlfriend (she calls him a "cold fish") - which, surely, cannot be intended to make us instantly like this character? We are also told:
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What had driven Toby’s ambition – what drove it still – was something he barely questioned. His schoolfriends had wished only to make money. Let them. Toby, though modesty forbade him to say so in so many words, wished to make a difference – or, as he had put it a little shamefacedly to his examiners, take part in his country’s discovery of its true identity in a post-imperial, post-Cold War world. Given his head, he would long ago have swept away Britain’s private education system, abolished all vestiges of entitlement and put the monarchy on a bicycle. Yet even while harbouring these seditious thoughts, the striver in him knew that his first aim must be to rise in the system he dreamed of liberating.
This paragraph, following on from the "criminal" paragraph, had me thinking we were looking at an actor, someone who was being a criminal because he wanted to act on his political beliefs.

But no. We skim across a career that seems quite passive, with little overt sign of political passion - making it seem like his girlfriend got it right. It's like we are told one thing but shown something else. And then the tape is collected and sat on for three years until someone else (Kit, acting out of character, it seemed to me) causes Toby to wake up and become heroic.

You can see that I really never "got" Toby as a character and that rather spoiled my reaction to the book.
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Old 02-19-2019, 09:18 PM   #63
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I'm with Victoria on this. Yes, Toby was breaking rules to make the recording, but Quinn was clearly breaking a great many more.

I liked the term "solitary decider" also. Toby is the whistleblower, a man with ethics when there are precious few of them on display anywhere else.

You may have noted in the Acknowledgements that le Carré expressed his thanks and admiration for Carne Ross, [...]
I hope my previous posts don't sound dismissive of whistle-blowers, but they do tread a shaky line. My objection is partly to the character of Toby (as I tried to explain in the previous post), but also partly to the lack of depth le Carré offers to the subject of whistle-blowing in this book.
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Old 02-20-2019, 12:04 AM   #64
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I'm with Victoria on this. Yes, Toby was breaking rules to make the recording, but Quinn was clearly breaking a great many more.

I liked the term "solitary decider" also. Toby is the whistleblower, a man with ethics when there are precious few of them on display anywhere else.

You may have noted in the Acknowledgements that le Carré expressed his thanks and admiration for Carne Ross,


I looked Carne Ross up and found that he had testified to the Butler Review, directly contradicting the British position on the justification behind the invasion of Iraq.

In Australia, we have our own version of Carne Ross, a man called Andrew Wilkie, and one of the few of our parliamentarians who has my respect. (Unsurprisingly, he's an independent.)

He was a senior figure in Australian intelligence and felt so strongly about what was being fabricated as an excuse for our involvement in that same invasion that he resigned his post and then gave information to a trusted journalist.

And what do you know: the response of the government was to denigrate him as much as they could. He wasn't very senior (he was); he was in a fragile mental state because of recently separating from his wife (he wasn't); and so on. And of course Australia went ahead with the rest of the gang, and in due course it was shown that everything that Wilkie had said was absolutely correct and true.
I remember Andrew Wilkie and the whole mess coming out of that. He was so right. (Meanwhile, Canada has Jean Chrétien to thank for never having made that mistake in the first place.)
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Old 02-20-2019, 10:00 AM   #65
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I do like shoutouts, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they amuse me, but they can also illuminate. Sometimes they're overt, as with the Scarlet Pimpernel references or even that rickety bridge, but they can be illuminating when they involve shared themes.

I find a lot of overlap between the characters of Estraven from Left Hand of Darkness both as whistleblowers and as those who had a more idealized or hopeful view of society than currently obtained. The other thing they perhaps had in common as it's open-ended here, is martyrdom. Estraven actively chose it; I wonder if Toby had seen that as a potential end, and not just as the possible torpedoing of his career, he would have pursued his course? Ultimately, he relied on a deep-rooted sense of fairplay and justice, it seems to me, despite the evidence that it didn't always apply. Could he have conceived that he might have been silenced, rather than marginalized? By the time Jeb was eliminated he was mostly committed morally and emotionally, even though Crispin offered him an out. But had he known sooner? Could he have compromised his conscience to the extent of, "Keep your head down and do what good you can at the margins"?
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Old 02-20-2019, 04:24 PM   #66
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The Pimpernel reference (I only caught the one), I thought was rather odd. An Englishman such as "Paul" might be presumed to think of the Scarlet Pimpernel in heroic terms, but here we have the objectionable Elliot describe "Punter" (the presumed villain) as "your jihadist Pimpernel par excellence". Rather a mixed message. Is this the author sending another signal that Elliot is not someone to be trusted, someone in line with Chauvelin, perhaps? (As if another signal was actually needed ... written for TV, perhaps.)

A curious comparison with The Left Hand of Darkness, issybird. I felt as if I understood Estraven rather more than I do Toby ... so I wouldn't like to guess at Toby's behaviour if the circumstances had changed.
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Old 02-20-2019, 04:32 PM   #67
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I think that by the end, Toby saw it as a very real possibility that he would be killed by Crispin’s henchmen. He wanted to get Emily to leave him to keep her safe, even though he couldn’t have got to the Internet cafe on his own, or operated the keyboard.

Near the beginning of his part of the story, there was a conversation with his mentor about the moral dilemma of whether to stay working for a government with whose policy you disagree, or leaving and being “another lost voice bleating in the wilderness”.

Initially, he stayed, but in the end he felt he had to act, whatever the consequences.

That’s an interesting comparison with Estraven, who clearly at the end acted as he did to force the situation. He must have felt he didn’t have anything left to live for, exiled from his home and his country. Toby did however, having met Emily who was clearly his soulmate.

Crossed with gmw!

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Old 02-20-2019, 04:55 PM   #68
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We skim across a career that seems quite passive, with little overt sign of political passion - making it seem like his girlfriend got it right. It's like we are told one thing but shown something else. And then the tape is collected and sat on for three years until someone else (Kit, acting out of character, it seemed to me) causes Toby to wake up and become heroic.

You can see that I really never "got" Toby as a character and that rather spoiled my reaction to the book.
Yes, very fair points. And Oakley told him he was completely blind to love, which echoes his girlfriend calling him a cold fish.

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I wonder if Toby had seen that as a potential end, and not just as the possible torpedoing of his career, he would have pursued his course? Ultimately, he relied on a deep-rooted sense of fairplay and justice, it seems to me, despite the evidence that it didn't always apply. Could he have conceived that he might have been silenced, rather than marginalized? By the time Jeb was eliminated he was mostly committed morally and emotionally, even though Crispin offered him an out. But had he known sooner? Could he have compromised his conscience to the extent of, "Keep your head down and do what good you can at the margins"?
It’s very possible. Le Carré shows Oakley grooming Toby as a young man to look the other way. After one of their visits, Toby reminds himself that he needs to learn to live with compromise more. Later in Cairo, Toby puts aside his own “callow personal opinions” so he can trade intelligence with Egyptian generals. So Le Carré could be saying that it took extraordinary circumstances to force Toby to act.

On the other hand, he was very young man when Oakley began tutoring him. At age 31, he did decide to tape-record Quinn. He also decided to keep the evidence, despite Oakley’s warning, even though he wasn’t certain what he had until Kit’s letter. So Le Carré could also be portraying the son of devout parents, slowly maturing, and coming into his own as an independent, good man.

The more we look, the more it seems that Le Carré leaves it up to the reader to decide who Toby was.

Oops: Crossed with Bookpossum

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Old 02-20-2019, 05:02 PM   #69
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(Meanwhile, Canada has Jean Chrétien to thank for never having made that mistake in the first place.)
Yes, Chrétien was probably under tremendous pressure to knuckle under and join the others.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:03 PM   #70
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Well, I liked Toby, and I think he developed into a man prepared to stand by his principles, even if it meant disgrace, injury or possibly death. He was decent and honest, in a world where there was precious little of either quality.
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Old 02-20-2019, 06:02 PM   #71
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Well, I liked Toby, and I think he developed into a man prepared to stand by his principles, even if it meant disgrace, injury or possibly death. He was decent and honest, in a world where there was precious little of either quality.

This made think of the quote attributed to Disraeli, about an ambassador being a honest man sent abroad to lie for his country. Toby struck me as an ordinary man, one who took on a career with a LONG history of treating truth as a fluid concept. Knowing this, he still reached the limits of what his conscience would permit in terms of reality distortion and truth manipulation, and once he'd committed to upholding what he saw as correct, he stuck to it. Right to what I still think was his dying breath.
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Old 02-20-2019, 06:46 PM   #72
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Good quote - I hadn't come across that one.
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Old 02-20-2019, 08:38 PM   #73
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The more we look, the more it seems that Le Carré leaves it up to the reader to decide who Toby was.
Yes, likewise with Oakley.
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Old 02-21-2019, 07:33 AM   #74
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The Pimpernel reference (I only caught the one), I thought was rather odd. An Englishman such as "Paul" might be presumed to think of the Scarlet Pimpernel in heroic terms, but here we have the objectionable Elliot describe "Punter" (the presumed villain) as "your jihadist Pimpernel par excellence".
At one point Oakley said to Toby about Quinn, "So, dear man, where in God's name is your nice new master? We seek him here, we seek him there."

But I didn't take the Pimpernel references as being more than an indication of how deeply ingrained the story is, perhaps especially for spookish Brits. Fun for us, coming so soon after reading it.

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Old 02-21-2019, 07:38 AM   #75
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Well, I liked Toby, and I think he developed into a man prepared to stand by his principles, even if it meant disgrace, injury or possibly death. He was decent and honest, in a world where there was precious little of either quality.
I thought we were supposed to like Toby and consider him the hero, too, as I certainly did. However, he does raise the issue of "ethical outcomes" or the ends justifying the means in his person, also. I think that's pretty much a given for whistleblowers and a further complicating factor for anyone who contemplates it. Not only are they risking career, livelihood, they're opening themselves to criticism and legal action from their actions. If they're not a technical martyr in giving their life for the cause, it's still a martyrdom. Leading to:

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This made think of the quote attributed to Disraeli, about an ambassador being a honest man sent abroad to lie for his country. Toby struck me as an ordinary man, one who took on a career with a LONG history of treating truth as a fluid concept. Knowing this, he still reached the limits of what his conscience would permit in terms of reality distortion and truth manipulation, and once he'd committed to upholding what he saw as correct, he stuck to it. Right to what I still think was his dying breath.
I don't think he survived, either. For me, the nebulous part of the ending was whether or not the files were sent in time, and whether or not at least one recipient would act on them.

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