Friday, 16 May 2003

John le Carré: Single and Single (1999)

Edition: Coronet, 2000
Review number: 1158

Oliver Single begins a promising career in the legal department of his father's banking company, only to gradually realise that its fortunes rest on the laundering of money for organised crime. As the company's biggest partnership, with "entrepeneurs" in the disintegrating Soviet Union, takes shape, Oliver makes the fateful decision to betray his father to the authorities. This part of the story is told in flashback; the main plot of Single and Single is about what happens when Oliver's father tracks him down in his new identity supplied by the security services following the murder of one of the bank's employees by the Russians.

Single and Single is not the only le Carré novel to revolve around a complex father-son relationship; in this respect, as in tone and structure, it is reminiscent of The Secret Pilgrim. The moral ambiguity of the characters is also, of course, a trademark of le Carré, and, as in The Secret Pilgrim the imperfections of both father and son fuel not just their relationship but the whole novel. However, Single and Single is prevented from being among the better le Carré novels because its long flashback is not really very well executed; compared to the main plot, it is dull and unconvincing. The Constant Gardener is the best of le Carré's latest phase, leaving this as worth reading for fans.

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