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The London Embassy by Paul Theroux

The London Embassy (edition 1983)

by Paul Theroux

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195260,388 (3.22)7
Title:The London Embassy
Authors:Paul Theroux
Info:Penguin Books Ltd (1983), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, 2012

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The London Embassy by Paul Theroux


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I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this little book, first read on a plane from Miami to London way back in 1985 or so. I was living in London then, as sometime around then too, was the author. His descriptions of both London and the English and their lifestyles ring very true, and this is an enjoyable scramble through relationships – including that of the “hero” of the story – set in the USA Embassy in London during the time of Margaret Thatcher’s "Iron Lady" rule.

Sometimes the writing is as grumpy and belligerent as Theroux himself sometimes is, but it is constantly witty and surprising … as the author always is! The book is made up of 18 chapters that form short-stories in themselves, and each usually explores a different character (usually eccentric) or aspect of the life of a FSO – 4, Political Officer, working in the American Embassy in London. (” … this was also a promotion for me .. from FSO-5, as a Consular Officer to FSO-4, political Officer. My designation was POL-1,not to be confused with POL-2, the CIA .. I was only a spy in the most general and harmless sense of the word”.) Having some limited experience of both British and American Embassies and Foreign Service officers, I found the descriptions of the various roles and tasks – as well as the actual characters of the Embassy officers – very sound and believable.

Strangely, given the published date and the chosen period Theroux set his book in, it is not ‘dated’ in any of the functions, attitudes or characters who people his stories.

A great – if short – read.
  John_Vaughan | Feb 3, 2012 |
A good read...each chapter stands alone as a short story; but add up to make a whole novel...nice plot twists, quite unexpected and nice window on London life in the 80s. ( )
  SallyApollon | Jun 6, 2010 |
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''The London Embassy'' shows an advancement and maturing of the perception of London demonstrated in Mr. Theroux's earlier novel, ''The Family Arsenal,'' a book over-indebted to Conrad's ''Secret Agent'' that treated the greatest English city as if it were all banana republics rolled into one and saw total anarchic breakdown in every wall graffito and football stadium dust-up. The new book is mellower and probably wiser. London, far from being the city of dreadful night where the carrion birds of empire come home to roost, is a complex human environment where decent and civil intercourse is still sometimes possible. Surveying the involvements of the Grosvenor Square Americans with the natives during business hours and after, Paul Theroux rings new changes on the old international theme and the old relationship that somehow endures.
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A natural successor to The Consul's File, this book takes the American narrator from Ayer Hitam to a new post in the London Embassy. As he once observed with a cool, amused eye the British and Malays, he can now observe the British and their endless treasure trove of eccentricities on home ground. And the Americans in the embassy are no less curious. There is the embassy Minister who is obsessed with rage at a male employee who wears an earring, an Arab who has come to London to rob a certain tomb, a woman who cycles all the way to Yorkshire to exact a peculiar revenge, and dozens of others who nurse some secret vagary...… (more)

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