2024 | KW 14

© Rosie Sherwood

Buchempfehlung der Woche

von Kim Sherwood

Kim Sherwood ist eine mehrfach ausgezeichnete Autorin und Dozentin für Creatives Schreiben an der Universität von Edinburgh. Ihr gefeierter Debütroman Testament (2018) war für den  Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Ihr zweites Buch, Double or Nothing (2022), ist der erste Teil einer Triologie, die das James-Bond-Universum erweitern. Der Nachfolger, A Spy Like Me, erscheint diesen Monat. In Deutschland wird die Double O-Serie von Cross Cult verlegt (Übersetzung: Roswitha Giesen). Zuletzt ist ihr Roman A Wild & True Relation (2023) erschienen.

John le Carré
Der heimliche Gefährte
Roman; Aus dem Englischen übersetzt von Werner Schmitz, Ullstein Taschenbuch Verlag, Berlin 2016/ Englische EA: Englische Erstausgabe, Knopf, New York 1990.

In January, I spent two weeks in the City of Spies, as Berlin was known in the Cold War. Staying at the Literary Colloquium on the shore of Lake Wannsee, still creaking with ice, I benefited from the silence of snow as I worked on my latest novel expanding the world of James Bond for the Ian Fleming Estate. Berlin features in the first novel in the series, Double or Nothing (2022), and in my debut Testament (2018), a literary novel about the impact of the Holocaust across three generations of a family. Though these are distinct genres, my interest in how the past defines the present reverberates in both. This interest is also the reason that Berlin is one of my favourite cities. Every street corner seems to offer a visible negotiation with history. Any map of Berlin operates across time and space. This is also true of John le Carré’s 1990 novel The Secret Pilgrim, which I picked up in Friedrichshain’s Shakespeare & Sons bookshop. The frame narration of The Secret Pilgrim sees le Carré’s most famous character George Smiley visit Ned’s class of aspiring spies to give a lecture. Within the frame, Ned looks back over his career, from Eastern Europe to Asia, surveying the damage to his conscience and the people around him.

When the Berlin Wall came down, it wasn’t just intelligence services who suddenly seemed to face a world that wouldn’t need them. It was also espionage writers and publishers. The Secret Pilgrim was le Carré’s first post-Cold War novel, and some speculated that he would flounder without the backdrop he’d made his own in modern classics like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974). This seems absurd now, given le Carré’s reputation as our best spy writer and state of the nation novelist. But it’s a reminder of how central the Cold War was in the spy genre’s evolution from Victorian gentleman amateurs pre-Second World War to the professional protagonist presented by Fleming, Graham Greene, Len Deighton and le Carré.

Of course, utopia failed to materialise in 1989, and the intelligence world has remained busy, as has its novelists, both differently concerned with terrorism and erosion of privacy in the Internet age. The Secret Pilgrim is a fascinating time capsule between these points, a novel of transition that looks back at the moral cost of espionage in the Cold War before it can be forgotten. The opening poses three questions: ‘“Did it do any good?” And “What did it to me?” and “What will become of us now?” To answer, le Carré traverses his own expanded universe, taking us back before the cataclysmic events of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and showing us the aftereffects, even giving us his first post-Glasnost novel The Russia House (1989) from a fresh perspective. It’s a Smiley story that isn’t a Smiley story, spy fiction that’s somehow a memoir, a novel that’s more of a short story collection. Only le Carré can do all that and grip you every page.

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