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Absolute Friends by John le Carré
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Absolute Friends (2003)

by John le Carré

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Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Le Carre books are almost a genre unto themselves these days, and like any genre, they can be a bit hit and miss. Absolute Friends is reasonably good, but it does suffer a little from flab and slight indulgence.

Teddy has come a long way from his activist student days in Berlin, however his friend Sasha is a presence that haunts him through the decades, and he guides Teddy into the ethical morass of intelligence work.

I think Le Carre is often under-rated as a stylist, in part because he's so readable and prolific, but for me the most enjoyable component of Absolute Friends was the prose. Sharp and observant, his writing is also veined with lyricism, and the elegiac, weary tone is just perfect for the story.

In terms of narrative, this is not the cracking pace that some of his other novels are - though the final quarter races by. Covering so many decades via a flashback felt a little meandering at times, and though I was enjoying the characters and their situations, the through-line was hard to trace. I wasn't sure *why* I was reading so much history.

Ultimately that history is a form of characterisation, not just of Teddy and Sasha but the developing - or rather devolving - intelligence community. Absolute Friends marked the first "hard left" turn that Le Carre took and in that context I can see why it was so bracing at the time. Five books later, and the tune is a little familiar, as are the characters, the arc they describe and the conclusion - which was a little too pat and just-so for me.

Though I agree with Le Carre on a political level, I do find his latter novels can lack the subtlety of some of his earlier work, the point is really rammed home and it's a bit of a shame as his characters are so life-like and prose so modulated.

For all that, it's still an enjoyable book. Not the best place to start on Le Carre, but by this stage, I can't imagine there are too many readers who haven't read at least one of this books. ( )
  patrickgarson | Sep 18, 2013 |
The story unfolds somewhat slowly, built around a vivid depiction of the intense and unlikely friendship that develops between Pakistani-born Brit Ted Mundy and German left-wing radical Sasha, who meet in the turbulent environment of student dissent in 1960s West Berlin. The trust that develops between them is hard won and hard tested through their involvement in radical left politics of the 1960s, then cold war intrigue as both come to serve for decades as highly effective double agents working for the downfall of the soviet Eastern bloc and especially the hated Stasi of East Germany, and finally as pawns in a deadly scheme in the 21st century war on terror.

The dramatization of Mundy and Sasha’s relationship is brilliant. Though personal trust is the linchpin of their relationship, this is not simpleminded story that politics is superficial, unworthy of our attention – the province of mere fanatics who ware not to be trusted on any account. Indeed, it is their commitment in different ways to a politics of freedom and human decency that draws them together, and is bound up in their relationship as it evolves.
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**Spoiler alert**

My one misgiving in the novel concerns the paranoid conclusion, in which it turns out that Sasha’s political passions, and Mundy’s commitment to Sasha as hope perhaps for a decent world, are manipulated by agents provocateurs committed to the hegemony of the US corporate state, and gunned down in a sham raid staged to silence European critics and dissenters in of the war on terrorism.

Is such a thing plausible? One would like to think that it is not. But since the novel’s publication some aspects of this kind of plot have been borne out by events – e.g. “terrorists” recruited by US intelligence operatives only to have their plans, which were really only ever the machinations of the US agents who manipulated them, foiled in highly public operations calculated to prove the need and efficacy of US intelligence operations, and the targeted assassination of US citizens deemed by US administration officials to be enemy combatants. Given those developments, and recent revelations of spying, one really does not have terribly firm grounds for dismissing the plot climax as paranoid delusion.

But in the end, the plausibility of the novel’s concluding plot device is far less important than the plausibility of the two main characters commitment to a politics of resistance to injustice and oppression in the face of profound uncertainties, and their related commitment to each other as friends. This is the thread of integrity which le Carre offers in a world in which truth of any kind is virtually impossible to find. ( )
  JFBallenger | Jul 8, 2013 |
Just great! Le Carre is such a great storyteller, such a great creator of characters. Mundy is fantastic, Sasha is better. Also, Le Carre narrates this himself, and does a wonderful job. He does voices, but doesn't over-do them. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Oct 5, 2011 |
"Leaving the envelope to mature for a week or two, therefore, he waits until the right number of tequilas has brought him to the right level of insouciance, and rips it open."

Ted Mundy, Pakistan-born English major's son, Germanophile and student rebel, has just about settled into mediocrity at the British Council when a trip in his guise as head of Overseas Drama and Arts (particular responsibility: Youth) becomes an exercise in secret police evasion. A figure from his past appears and he is recruited into double agency.

I got to page 260 out of 400 of this. The first 200 pages were really promising - fascinating character development, a cold open that leaves us desperate to get back to it, great student riot atmosphere... and then we get into the spying proper and it bored me to anger. Seriously, I got so angry with the dull plot, dire characters and chronically self-indulgent writing ("redux" 4 times in 2 pages??) that I decided I would rather play Bubble Shooter on my phone than continue reading it. Scathing criticism indeed.

The writing is exceptional and so consistent that I struggled to find a quote for the top of this review and shan't waste more time trying to find any more - rather than good writing with exceptional one-liners, this is excellent writing with an unfortunate dollop of smug. The page that finally made me lose my temper was one in which Ted was named "Mundy redux" 5 times over a double page. I don't know what redux was supposed to mean, given that we are already so hopelessly entrenched in Ted's multiple personalities, but it struck me as so pompous, so "I require my readers to have advanced degrees, otherwise they're not good enough", that I was genuinely angry.

The characters are impossible to relate to - Ted is dull, mediocre, apathetic; no wonder his wife finds someone else. Sasha is fiery and contrary, but implausibly so. And no one else gets much of a look-in, as this is about the two absolute friends and not anyone else. So character development for the support cast is woeful.

And as for the plot - Ted's childhood: fascinating. Student days: engrossing. Berlin riot participation: page-turning. Settling into middle-class mediocrity in Britain/spying: urgh. Bubble Shooter was more exciting. ( )
  readingwithtea | May 22, 2011 |
To be conveyed.
To take no decisions.
To sit back and be a spectator to your own life. That's spying too, apparently.


I've been meaning to read some Le Carré for a while now, and this happened to be the first novel of his I found in a used book store. It was first and foremost entirely different from what I was expecting. For the first 150 pages, you don't even know that you're reading a "spy novel" - it's just a book about a lost man trying to find his way, and the strange friend he makes along the way. Despite this, the writing is enthralling, and you quickly become invested in the characters and what happens to them.

Ted Mundy is the son of a washed up British ex-pat who travels to Berlin to study German language and literature during the height of the Cold War, where he quickly becomes embroiled in the politics of protest and liberation. Years later, Mundy believes he has left his extremist days behind him, only to discover that old friends have different plans for him.

Although it didn't blow me away, Absolute Friends was engrossing as it spiraled to its rather disturbing (but in retrospect unavoidable) conclusion. Le Carré clearly wanted to make a point in this novel, and I'd say he did as much and more. More than anything, the novel will infuriate you when you realize just how reflective it is of the true state of international relations in the current day. Overall, an enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading more of Le Carré's stuff. ( )
  philosojerk | Feb 15, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
In this book John le Carré, the pro's pro, seems determined to resume his own apprenticeship as a writer, to shuck off the last stubborn vestiges of public-school cleverness. The rant at the end of the book is the proof. He does the most un-English thing imaginable: he loses his head while all about him are keeping theirs.
 
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On the day his destiny returned to claim him, Ted Mundy was sporting a bowler hat and balancing on a soapbox in one of Mad King Ludwig's castles in Bavaria.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316000647, Hardcover)

This epic tale of loyalty and betrayal spans the lives of two friends from the riot-torn West Berlin of the 1960s to the grimy looking-glass of Cold War Europe to the present day of terrorism and new alliances. This is the novel le Carr fans have been waiting for, a brilliant, ferocious, heartbreaking work for the ages.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:19 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Follows friends and fellow ex-spies, Ted Mundy and Sasha, as they attempt to change their lives and the world in which they live, covering their new escapades in Germany and the ones from their past.

» see all 9 descriptions

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