Mark Harris
July 09, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Night Manager

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
run date
Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman
Action, Crime, Drama

We gave it an A

A few years ago, when the end of the Cold War was still a headline and phrases like new world order had not yet been flogged into parody by overuse, speculation ran high that literary spymaster John le Carre and other, lesser chroniclers of East-vs.-West intrigue would soon find themselves hunting for a new genre. What use are black and white chess pieces, ran the neowisdom, when the new game board is painted in shades of gray? How naively trendy to imagine that popular fiction would politely waft wherever the prevailing political breeze blew it. And how foolish to forget that Le Carre has always forsaken black and white for a rainbow of grays- mournful, spectral, shadowy, achingly ambivalent. In his superb new novel, The Night Manager (Knopf, $24)-his 11th since he invented the modern espionage story in 1963 with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold-he works familiar territory with the mastery of a brilliant conductor returning to a favorite symphony. It scarcely matters that the menace in this novel isn’t Red, but green: an apolitical multimillionaire who buys and sells both arms and drugs. Le Carre is writing about what he has always written about: the charged internal realm where private and political loyalties do battle, where public passions vie with secret ones, where English Character and personal morality are locked in struggle. And no other writer explores the soul-shredding results of those cold wars with his vision and precision. In The Night Manager, the man in combat with himself is Jonathan Pine, a former undercover soldier in Britain’s army whose life was destroyed by his own act of patriotism (or was it treachery?): A woman he loved-the mistress of an international drug dealer-was murdered after Pine gave the secrets she shared with him to British intelligence. Since then, the grief-shattered Pine has taken refuge in neutral Switzerland, where he toils quietly as a Zurich hotelier and wills himself identityless. Pine’s opportunity for redemption comes when British agents offer him a chance to destroy his mistress’ murderer. Of course, there will be another woman, and another chance at patriotism and betrayal. And of course, as in other Le Carre novels, some of the nominal good guys-frightfully well- mannered, whey-faced ”espiocrats” in drab offices-turn out to be as malevolent as any villain. But even admirers of his earlier work may be startled by the wallop of emotion Le Carre packs into The Night Manager. One of the many twists that gives the book its psychological heft is that Pine’s expiation can come only if he sins again and again, with his transgressions this time dictated by feuding factions of British and U.S. intelligence. To fulfill his mission, he must orchestrate a new act of betrayal by befriending- then destroying-the millionaire’s entourage. Through every page, the almost-numb heart and mind of Le Carre’s still- honorable protagonist give this novel a heartbreaking gravity. To spy, Le Carre makes clear, is an act of careful self-destruction: One vacates one’s identity to become an empty vessel in the service of God and country. In The Night Manager, the most devastating game of cat and mouse is played between the ”missing person” Jonathan has become and the self he abandoned long ago. ”I am dead,” he tells himself, trying to shake off the past, ”and this is my afterlife.” No such luck. In John le Carre’s world, not even ghosts get off that easy. A

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