Book review : Silverview by John le Carré

Manus from Kilbeggan Library

joined Westmeath Libraries in 2021

Julian is running a failing bookshop in a small seaside town. One day, in walks a strange elderly man named Edward who has an exciting idea to improve the fortunes of the shop. As the story goes on, Edward’s connections to the shadowy world of British intelligence slowly come into focus. Is he really the kindly eccentric he seems to be?

Meanwhile, someone within the spy agencies has leaked secret information. An urgent hunt begins, and the trail leads the investigators to a familiar seaside town and failing bookshop.

Silverview is John Le Carré’s last novel, and he died before it went to print. Though it is a very short novel by Le Carré standards, it is in all other respects a fitting farewell. Like 2017’s A Legacy of Spies, Silverview is about an old spook who carries on his shoulders the weight of a career in lies. Like 2019’s Agent Running in the Field, the mature spy atones for the past through a gesture of faith in the younger generation. But while Silverview develops familiar themes, it stands on its own feet.

The reader is kept turning the pages by characters like Proctor, an unlikely inquisitor, and Deborah, a haughty, ailing, aristocratic spy. We are also invested in the fates of Julian, the innocent bookshop owner drawn into this world against his will, and of Lily, single mother and cynical child of a family of spies.

But at the heart of the story is Edward, who is equal parts admirable and exasperating. The story hinges on revelations about his past career in intelligence. As we see how he turned from one side of the Cold War to the other before finding an entirely new cause to champion, things in the present begin to fall into place and the novels draws to an understated but affecting conclusion.

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