... the plot unfolds with as much cryptic cunning as a reader could want, and le Carré’s people are perfection, most especially the Service’s grand poohbahs, all in a discreet tizzy when they find they’ve been snookered by some renegade, conscience-stricken apostate. The fabric of duplicity and betrayal, though gratifyingly present here, is not so devastatingly intricate and shocking as in, say, A Most Wanted Man—whose ending is never far from the reader’s mind. Silverview is a minor work in the le Carré canon, but it is enjoyable throughout, written with grace, and a welcome gift from the past.
Silverview, the final completed novel by the master of spy fiction, John le Carré, arrives 10 months after his passing, like light from a dead star to illuminate nothing less than the slippery nature of truth and the very concept of loyalty ... In many ways Silverview is a fitting conclusion to the long career of a writer who redefined an entire genre with the deceptive ease of pure genius ... In this final work le Carré has lost none of what made him remarkable: here are characters operating at the very limits of their own endurance, confronting fundamental truths that have the disturbing quality of prophecy ... The novel is exquisitely poised in the present moment, set in a flat Fenland scarred with relics of past conflicts, facing a sea that threatens to sweep all away ... In this concise, tightly focused novel, every reference has weight ... illed with joy in the resilience of the human spirit, and with love. Le Carré’s compassion for his characters shines through, along with the gleam of humour. It’s also deeply thrilling, in the best way: old spies resurrecting their tradecraft, younger men discovering whether or not they can trust their instincts, a multiplicity of small betrayals and one or two grand sacrifices ... It’s not a perfect book (if such a thing exists) – some of the characterisation feels stereotypical ... We had more from John le Carré than we had any right to expect: we can be grateful for what he left us.
Le Carré favors the close third person, but every point of view has just enough opacity that readers can never be sure they’ve seen everything ... Typically, le Carré’s narrative warheads are lodged in his endings. The novels patiently build up to a final explosion, leaving readers with a greater sense of dismay than of triumph. Endings, for le Carré, were reckonings. This slender volume (just over 200 pages) does conclude, rather abruptly, but it lacks what le Carré has taught us to expect of an ending. You can wonder, indeed, whether he had quite got around to finishing the book ... if Silverview feels less than fully executed, its sense of moral ambivalence remains exquisitely calibrated. Besides, novelists of le Carré’s stature are not diminished by their lesser efforts; Henry James closed his career not with his masterly The Golden Bowl but the wanly schematic The Outcry. The Republic of Literature has room for both.
All this scene-setting, it has to be said, takes its time to get going, and this in a slim tale of just over 200 pages ... the text still feels undercooked, as if le Carré had planned to drop more ingredients into the pot, and when the ending comes it does so rather abruptly ... It has often been said that le Carré is a novelist, not a mere thriller writer. Yet the thing is that, for all his protests that his creations were always more fictional than credited, what he excels at is giving us a plausible peek into the spy’s world ... The past is always what is most present in his novels, and in Silverview le Carré’s footing is surest as we follow Edward back into the 1980s and 1990s ... Here and there the paintwork still catches the light, but it is no late masterpiece. Yet lo! —what past glories sail on forever in its wake.
The novel...makes a fitting requiem for the career of the man who brought a new level of complexity and humanity to espionage fiction ... Le Carré has made these points before, but here, in his last ode to disillusioned spies, he makes them with a somber eloquence that reverberates all the more for its finality.
Thankfully, what le Carré has left us, is a thoroughly enjoyable book, more accessible and less complex than his greatest works ... manages to build on themes Le Carré has developed so skillfully — betrayal, mendacity, bureaucratic inanity and our willingness to accept black-and-white explanations of a gray world — over decades as one of the world’s best-selling authors.
... features the intriguing tradecraft of the espionage world, delivered with a skill that stretches right back to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but the preliminary ethos of the book is comic ... What develops is initially a bizarre comedy of manners with entertaining character interactions and the spycraft lore that is the sine qua non of le Carré’s writing. To give more away about the plot would be a crime ... But the humour of his characterisation is only one aspect of the book – le Carré at this late stage of his career is not ready to abandon the caustic betrayals of the spy’s life, which, even in a book of this brevity, echo the weight of his more sombre work ... a diverting if slender coda to one of the boldest writing careers of the 20th century, showcasing some sharply drawn characters ... In this posthumous farewell, le Carré is still showing us how literary fiction and the spy narrative can coexist in the same book ... Yes, the author’s admirers might have preferred a more weighty final novel with a tangible sense of threat, but this is what we’ve got – and we can be grateful for it.
At a mere 200 pages, it is far from ambitious, less a late-career magnum opus than a well-aimed parting shot ... Having shown how espionage encircles the globe, le Carré attempts in Silverview to take the premise to its next logical conclusion—that is, he attempts to prove that surveillance is by nature cannibalistic.
In almost every respect Silverview fulfils the late-period le Carré stereotype. It’s deftly and confidently written, but so slight you can easily read it in one sitting. In the very first sentence it’s raining. Everybody seems thoroughly dejected and nobody ever tells the truth. Most of the characters, in fact, are having affairs, thinking about having affairs, feeling guilty about having had affairs or worrying that other people are having affairs ... Since everybody is haunted by the ghosts of old betrayals, much of the narrative consists of people telling each other what somebody else did 40 years ago. And as always in late-period le Carré, nobody speaks quite like a real person ... The only real change from the late-period le Carré formula, in fact, is that this book is surprisingly unpolitical ... the actual plot is pretty thin ... Is the book weaker, then, for being so familiar? Maybe not. After all, just as Ian Fleming’s readers devoured the Bond books for the familiar staples of guns and girls, so le Carré’s fans will probably enjoy seeing the old formula given one last runout ... perhaps it’s the privilege of a great writer to repeat himself. And although Silverview never comes close to matching the achievement of Tinker Tailor or A Perfect Spy, there are enough reminders of the old magic to please his most ardent aficionados.
... passes muster. The stitches don’t show, and the novel possesses several elements of classic le Carré ... another picture emerges in Silverview: that of a lifelong idealist whose commitments (said to be a liability in intelligence work) transcend institutions, nations, and ideologies. Edward is, in the end, a man whose conscience won’t be outwitted by history, and unlike le Carré’s other stories of traitors and double agents who meet grim fates, Silverview is no tragedy.
This is a satisfying novel with some obvious but minor flaws. Le Carré's prose is occasionally bloodless... The romance between Julian and Edward's adult daughter feels rushed and artificial ... Much more often, though, this is an intelligent, mournful, wry delight ... The book's rueful tone is captured in a conversation between two experienced agents ... A former spy himself, le Carré was increasingly critical of America's and Britain's interventionist foreign policies. Perhaps his estate is sitting on another unpublished gem that we'll see someday. If not, this is a suitable end to a storied career, a low-key thriller with a brain and a conscience.
The pace of the novel is beautifully judged. As ever, le Carré moves between now and then, much of the narrative coming in conversations retrieved from the past, from Poland in the Cold War and Bosnia in the terrible break-up of Yugoslavia. There is just enough of the familiar tradecraft, most centred on Proctor, amiable, sympathetic, yet bound to duty ... Nabokov, in his Lectures on Literature, told readers to cherish the details. Le Carré was always a master of detail, and there are cherishable details galore here. It is, I suppose, a sunset novel, but what a glow it leaves in the evening sky.
Everything’s connected here. The reader only has to connect the dots ... There are the expected scenes in the Home Office, spies plotting with (and against) each other, but fewer than usual surprises, and no zinger twist at the end ... This slim (215 pages) posthumous volume is not le Carre’s greatest novel, but it is one of his most touching and satisfying – for putting into high relief this beloved author’s vision for his country and his disappointments, and perhaps most of all, the elegance and coloristic palette of his unique and incomparable prose.
Le Carré was always a superb plotter, and here he deftly arranges a mosaic of seemingly unrelated events and conversations that cohere into a full picture only as the book comes to an end. The narrative rewards yet demands close attention; unless you happen to note the make of a car driven by a mysterious unnamed woman introduced fairly early on, for example, events toward the book’s end might prompt some head-scratching ... Yet frustratingly, Silverview also feels unfinished—not in its narrative, but in the bits in between major plot points. Le Carré’s keen observational style and grasp of psychological depth seems muted here. Characters and locations feel only sketched out; the central character of Julian, the bookseller, is especially thinly drawn. The motive for the act of betrayal at the book’s center is never explained by the character responsible for it and only guessed at by others. Once you’ve completed the puzzle, it somehow feels as if some pieces are still missing ... a perfectly serviceable thriller, even if it is comparatively unambitious ... more a drinkable blended whiskey than the vintage single malt le Carré completists might have been hoping for.
... quieter and more implacable for its deliberate weighing up of things ... There is no denying that occasionally Silverview feels like le Carré is re-mixing some of his greatest hits but there is much fun to be had from his placing them in a contemporary setting.
Le Carré, who died last December, offers his many fans one final gift ... Le Carré plays out revelations about Edward slowly and teasingly, and, in the end, they’re as damning as you could wish. The real drama, however, is in the present, where all the characters are hopelessly intertwined and compromised by their loves and loyalties, none of them innocent ... The author’s last few novels have been increasingly valedictory, but this one is truly haunted by intimations of mortality.
... offers plenty to enjoy and admire. Crisp prose, a precision-tooled plot, the heady sense of an inside track on a shadowy world... all his usual pleasures are here, although it can’t be ignored that they’re aren’t always quite in sync ... If the book’s emotional clout rests largely on Julian’s thread, its most gripping moments emerge from Proctor’s, not least a long central scene during which, tracing a lead, he interviews a husband and wife spy duo in Somerset...If that doesn’t sound especially exciting, it’s testimony to le Carré’s undimmed gifts that the scene, essentially a hefty info-dumping session designed to fill in the blanks, unfolds with pace and maximal tension...there’s also fun to be had from his peculiarly mordant brand of workplace comedy, with a resigned drollery to his portrait of ageing empty nesters for ever chained to the job ... All the same, you can’t help notice that the story’s more persuasive parts involve the cold war machinations of le Carré’s salad days; as the plot charts a mazy constellation between communist Poland, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the struggle in Palestine, the story grows foggier, even as its ambivalence about the motives and consequences of British foreign policy emerges loud and clear ... If we’re left dangling by the end, there’s an added tease of sorts in the novel’s billing as le Carré’s 'last complete masterwork' – on the strong side, no doubt, but a tag that nonetheless holds out the prospect of rougher treasures still awaiting the light.
First-rate prose and a fascinating plot distinguish the final novel from MWA Grand Master le Carré ... Many readers will think the book is unfinished—it ends abruptly—but few will find it unsatisfying. This is a fitting coda to a remarkable career.
A shaky start aside – the opening scene doesn’t really earn its place in the novel – the book settles down eight pages in, and for one last time we’re in le Carré’s familiar world: its themes, its principals, its impeccable style ... Silverview has three outstanding set pieces, any one of which more than outweighs weaknesses of plot. Proctor’s interrogation of two retired colleagues, in which Edward Avon’s history is anatomised, is le Carré at his finest, revealing character and backstory through dialogue with an economy and grace beyond most writers ... where other genre writers might pump up their volumes with prolonged action sequences, here the conversational duelling is as exciting as a car chase ... With the publication of Silverview, it’s clear these virtues remained intact to the end. And if this final novel contains the occasional passage where we might feel we’ve been here before, such moments are tempered by the sadness of knowing we’ll never be here again.