On 27 September, John le Carré will become the living author with the greatest number of works to have been published by Penguin Modern Classics: 21 in total, which also happens to be all of his works.
This is an astonishing achievement, which underlines the author’s status as one of the most important writers of our time. Since 1961, le Carré has famously portrayed the political and human fallout of the Cold War in his epic Smiley series, but his other novels have been equally ambitious and compelling, from The Constant Gardener to A Most Wanted Man to The Little Drummer Girl.
The Little Drummer Girl, first published in 1983, becomes the latest addition to the le Carré Penguin Modern Classics set on 27 September. Its tale – of how young British actress Charlie is pulled into an Israeli operation to ensnare an elusive Palestinian terrorist – will also shortly reach our screens in a lavish six-part BBC One adaptation starring Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Shannon and Charles Dance. The director is Park Chan-wook, who my son tells me is a defining auteur of South Korean cinema.
To celebrate this multitude of riches, Penguin has asked 21 bloggers to review the 21 le Carré novels in the Modern Classics series, and to help give away lots of books!
The novel I’ve been asked to explore is Single & Single.
Single & Single may not be a le Carré novel you have heard of before. Published nineteen years ago in 1999, it’s been rather overlooked, which is a shame as it’s something of a gem.
As in many le Carré novels, the reader is dropped right into the middle of the story. Three curious events are linked, but how? An corporate lawyer from the House of Single & Single is shot dead in cold blood on a Turkish hillside – by the firm’s top client. Children’s entertainer Oliver Hawthorne is asked to explain why five million and thirty pounds have appeared in his daughter Carmen’s bank account. The splendidly monikered financier Tiger Single vanishes into thin air. How these threads interweave is stylishly revealed over the course of the narrative.
Single & Single contains a number of le Carré’s authorial trademarks. It’s a wide-ranging exploration of how respectable institutions mask and service international crime. It traces the way in which individuals find themselves sucked into complex situations in which they struggle to maintain any semblance of control. It examines the uneasy partnership between the government agencies and the people they often use shamelessly to achieve their (sometimes laudable) aims. And it takes on Big Universal Themes: the nature of loyalty, father-son relationships, integrity, morality and love.
Two things stood out for me as a reader. Firstly, Single & Single feels very timeless – the scenarios it outlines are still highly plausible in the world we inhabit today. And one character – a villain who claws his way up by exploiting the worst facets of capitalism following the fall of Russian communism – now feels particularly relevant. Secondly – what’s this? – a hint that one of the characters may be given something approaching a happy ending? How very un-le Carré! Of course you’ll now have to read the novel to see how it all turns out…
And so to the GIVEAWAY: Mrs Peabody has a copy of The Little Drummer Girl and a copy of Single & Single to give away to two lucky blog readers.
Just write YES! in a comment below the post to be entered into the draw – no matter where you are in the world. Winners will be selected randomly and notified in due course. Good luck!
The giveaway draw will close at 23.59 on Saturday 29 September