Monday, 15 May 2000

John le Carré: A Small Town in Germany (1968)

Edition: Pan, 1970
Review number: 501

Continuing the bleak atmosphere of his earlier novels, John le Carré produced A Small Town in Germany, which looks forward from the political, social and economic world of the late sixties in as pessimistic a manner as possible. (There are few clues for a reader today not familiar with early seventies European politics to mark this novel out as set in the future; it is only the publication date which places it before such events as the three day week.)

Set in Bonn (the small town of the title) at a time when neo-Naxis are agitating against the English while the UK is canvassing for West German support for their application for EEC membership, the novel focuses on the search for an absconding defector from the British Embassy. Alan Turner, sent out from Whitehall to investigate, almost delights in upsetting people, uncovering unpleasant secrets and generally making himself unwelcome; yet in this atmosphere of deceit where face is everything, he has little alternative if his investigation is to get anywhere.

The general tone of the novel is one of extreme disillusionment, as exemplified by one character's declaration that he believes in hypocrisy, as the closest anyone can get to virtue these days.

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