With the BBC mini-series adaptation of John le Carré’s The Night Manager scheduled for release in 2016, I thought it was about time to wrangle the book out of my tower of to be reads and give it a read to get a feel for the story before I watch the adaptation. I remember when I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy that I was glad I’d read the book beforehand, as it helped me more easily grasp the plot of the film – there’s so much going on, it’s easy to miss things. Le Carré’s work, while fantastic (in the opinion of this reader) can be quite complex at times, full of politics and intrigue, and little strands of loose plot throughout that sometimes make no sense until he cleverly pulls one thread and brings it all together. The Night Manager is no exception, and while it strays from the subject matter of his previous work, that of the politics of the Cold War era, it is certainly no less thrilling than what an avid reader of le Carré – or spy thrillers for that matter – could hope for.
It is 1991 and the Gulf War has just begun. On a cold January night in Zurich, Jonathan Pine, former British undercover soldier turned hotel night manager, is anticipating the arrival of a party of guests at his hotel, one of whom is Richard Onslow Roper: “the worst man in the world”. Roper is English, rich, charismatic, and famous. He is also a suspected arms dealer, and a spectre from Jonathan’s past that he has never quite managed to shake. Soon after this encounter with Roper, Jonathan is enlisted by a British intelligence agency (headed by the indefatigable Leonard Burr) to infiltrate Roper’s inner sanctum and to build a case against him. As Jonathan sets out on this path of redemption, revenge, and subterfuge, we see the cannibalistic and at times corrupt nature of the spy business, as rival agencies vie to be on top and are willing to sacrifice whoever and whatever it takes to get there.
After reading seven novels involving the master spy himself, George Smiley, I had my doubts that this new generation of spy and this new political era could even come close to the Cold War espionage of le Carré’s earlier novels. But I needn’t have worried – The Night Manager is the spy novel I didn’t realise I wanted to read, and Pine is the spy I didn’t know I’d been waiting for. He’s not the career spy of past stories – he’s the volunteer whose questionable motives for volunteering could eventually prove to be the undoing of the operation; he’s the man who would be willing to sacrifice his future to build a believable past for himself. Roper is the complex villain you love to hate, but with that hate comes conflict – yes, he is the worst man in the world, but he is also a father and a lover; a man who would do what he must to provide for those dearest to him and the sort of man you want to see get away with things because he is just that good at being bad. And it is these two characters who weave through the web of politics spun by the men behind their polished desks. A web with threads that can just as easily ensnare the spider as it can the fly. This is not James Bond – it’s not sexy, it’s not full of action, there are no fancy gadgets. This is proper spook work in all it’s subtle and lonely glory.
I have little doubt that the BBC’s adaptation of this novel will be nothing short of magnificent. While I have some misgivings regarding the casting of one character in particular, the casting of the two leads is nothing if not perfection. As I read The Night Manager, knowing that it would be Hugh Laurie as Roper, facing off against Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, I couldn’t read without seeing them in my mind. Hearing their voices speak the dialogue, I couldn’t imagine anyone else being more suited for the roles than these two incredibly fine actors. But the most important thing for me is that I know in bringing these two complex characters to life, they will do just justice to le Carré’s work and the book will be complemented perfectly.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – Jonathan Pine is a beautifully crafted and complex character, so it’s difficult not to become attached to him. I particularly enjoyed being able to follow him as he built his legend (spy lingo for ‘back story’) in preparation for taking on Roper. He’s multifaceted and at times conflicted, making him a very interesting character to read.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – Obviously fans of le Carré’s other work would enjoy this (if they’ve not already read it), but also anyone who enjoys quality spy fiction. If you’ve not read le Carré previously I think this novel is good starting point, as the narrative is a little easier to follow than some of his other novels (although I think that may be because I’ve been reading so much of him lately, so I’m used to it).
FAVOURITE QUOTE – “‘When God finished putting together Dicky Roper,’ he told Rooke earnestly over a Friday evening curry, ‘He took a deep breath and shuddered a bit, then He ran up our Jonathan to restore the ecological balance.’”