Friday, August 26, 2011

Men, Women & Children

He... removed Allison's shirt, skirt, and underwear so she lay completely nude in [the] bed. He then stood up and removed his own jeans and underwear, leaving the knee-high football socks on,pushed down around his ankles. She noted this and added it to the list of details that she would always remember and would always wish had been different.
This is a scene from about the first third of the book, after author Chad Kultgen has introduced his primary cast and then proceeds to move them across the chessboard to each other, or away from each other in other circumstances. This is Allison's first sex act, and it's utterly heartbreaking, but understated at the same time, similar to the scene in Yates' The Easter Parade when the protagonist loses her virginity to a soldier who doesn't know her name. Most of this book is filled with these small moments of non-intimacy. There is no love. There is only the sex act, and all are consumed with desire for it, or confused with intense emotions about it.

I picked this book up because it was recommended for fans of (early) Bret Easton Ellis or fans of Palahniuk. I didn't get the sense that this was similar to either of those authors. Mostly, the book reminds me or Tom Perrotta and Richard Yates, both of whom peeled back as many layers as they could of their characters and exposed to the reader what really lies in the heart of suburbia.

Both Kultgen and Perrotta are intensely fascinated by the Internet's influence over sex, how it has changed how young people negotiate the sex act. There's a disturbing scene in which Chris is receiving his first blowjob (only moments after his second kiss!) and he grows flaccid because the fellatio isn't as intense as they are portrayed in pornography. It's a painfully obvious point that Kultgen labors to make, but it's true. In another scene, Chris' father comes home at lunch to masturbate but can't get his virus-infected computer to function, so he debates masturbating solely through imagination, but finds he can't. The list of scenes like this go on.

The novel's sole preoccupation is sex and the modern negotiation of it. There is no courting among these teens, no dating no flirting. It's all sex and blowjobs. And the intense feverish feelings brought up by them. If there's one thing that Kultgen manages to pull off well it's the hot flushed feeling of being a teenager, sweating and pulsating with hormones and chemicals, instant erections and even quicker ejaculations.

However, one thing Kultgen doesn't quite manage is his prose. It's flat, it's simplistic and it's altogether far too detached. Unlike Perrotta or even Yates, I never got the sense that Kultgen even cares for his cast. They're just amoebas under the microscope, similar to how Zola viewed his characters. This is felt clearly in Kultgen's underwhelming prose. When a character is caught off guard by something, the narration helpfully provides that he's surprised. When they're mad, we're told explicitly they're enraged. And so on. Nothing is left unexplained. Kultgen uses the same flat clinical voice to describe everything from a beautiful love scene between a newly divorced father and his new girlfriend to the aforementioned Allison's plan to have anal sex. This detachment doesn't work in Kultgen's favour, unfortunately. It serves to highlight the artifice of the book and how Kultgen has no sympathy for these people.

A book like this needs to work by one of two ways: either it comes from a strict moralist point of view (Ellis, Welsh) or from empathy (Perrotta, Yates). I definitely do not get the sense that Kultgen is a moralist nor do I get the sense that he empathizes with his young cast and the pressures they feel to be adults. He simply puts them on the page, moves them around and has them make mistakes. The novel ends up feeling slight because Kultgen doesn't come down on either side.

One can't even say that this novel feels like journalism because the artifice of the plot feels too strong. The overarching structure of the novel is too much like a novel for Men, Women & Children to be journalism. That's not to say that it doesn't feel realistic. It does, thanks to Kultgen's couching of events in a here and now kind of way, up to and including real life current websites and TV shows.

There's almost a sense of "can you believe what kids are up to?" with this book, like Kultgen saw this happening and wanted to share it with the world as a piece of shocking information, similar to the way people share stories of misfortune to remind themselves how much better off they are than the unfortunate victims. This robs the novel of any emotional impact beyond the above instances of non-intimacy. There's a scene in which a wife contemplates having real sex with her husband, moving against him rather than simply sitting there and letting him "grind his penis against her". This pretty much sums up how I felt about this book, which, like the sex act, is complicated. Kultgen is a strong enough writer to have crafted something compulsively readable and slightly entertaining beyond the titillating nature of the plot, but when it comes down to it, the detachment and the exploitation of harrowing emotional ground left me somewhat empty.

I certainly didn't hate this novel. Like I said, Kultgen is a good enough storyteller. His grasp on the fundamentals is not up for debate. The problem is the details, like having the reader invest in the cast, emotionally. It pains me to say this, but unlike any of the other authors I have compared Kultgen to, the most similar is Zola. A cast of character is nothing more than laboratory subjects to both authors. They both want to see what makes them tick, and they put them through a complicated plot with many twists to see how they hold up. This plot always includes gross mistakes made by the characters and the reader is always helpless to intervene to protect these people from themselves. However, a huge difference between Zola and Kultgen is that Zola cared about society. He wanted to expose its problems to the people for the betterment of civilization. Kultgen doesn't display any of that concern with Men, Women & Children. He just wants to shock and appall us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dream Line-up 2

God, the story potential with X-Men. There's so much good stuff you can do, but writers never do them. They stick to soap opera and time travel and alternate worlds and retcons. Nuh-uh. Not me. My plan is to take the X-Men back to their roots, sort of. With no Professor X, Scott Summers assembles his team and fights any threat to mutants. Their job is to protect the mutant population of the Earth. So again, I'd try to find a balance between a kid-friendly tone with some complicated storytelling for adults. I wouldn't have rape or sex or arms being ripped off.

Again, the rules are the same: seven members, all of whom had to have been a member of the team at some point in their history. Current status or continuity is ignored. If I were writing this book, I'd have somebody come in and write a final arc, clearing the way for me anyway. Here's my team.

Scott Summers was never my favourite X-Man growing up. He was dorky, his power was stupid, and the reason why I mostly dislike him was because of the whole Summers brothers thing and Mr Sinister. They never capitalized on that; writers (Claremont) just dragged out these teases until that's all the Summer legacy was, a big tease. Plus, anything a writer did, another one would retcon. It was infuriating. But now that I'm a bit older, Scott seems to me a better leader, a stronger man, somebody who wants to take Xavier's legacy into the 21st century. That's more or less the theme that I'd write into the X-Men, starting with Scott.

Captain Britain
Claremont's Excalibur series remains one of my favourites. I think Brian Braddock has so much story potential. He's kind of an everyman but with tremendous powers. He's not the smartest, he's not the wittiest, but he's a nice guy who can hit hard. Braddock is just a guy trying to do right by the world, which again, refers to the theme of my direction.

Emma Frost
She's delicious to write. She's a bitch, she's nasty, but she has some emotion, including a love for Scott Summers. She truly cares for him. Plus, she's a reformed villain and a ruthless tactician. Plus, she's fun to write. On top of this, you can be damned sure that I'm not having the artist draw her naked or exploitative. I want her sexy and strong, but not slutty.

The villain turned hero is an intriguing prospect. Given the overall direction of my X-Men, this makes sense. He's done some bad in the world, but he can make up for it by helping his fellow mutant. Plus, the team needs a heavy-hitter. It's either him or Colossus, but Juggernaut is a better fit for the theme. A story possibility can be the tension between Juggernaut and Captain Britain - both strong guys who have faced off before.

Cecilia Reyes
Here's a character who is a) not that famous and b) sort of interesting. I admit that choosing her is partly a political choice. She's an Afro-Latin American and a surgeon. Her power, that of creating a force field isn't so much interesting. Instead, it's her story potential which made my choice. The team needs a medical or a knowledge pillar. A possible arc for Reyes is her desire to protect mutantkind from itself. There's a tension between her background and the future. She becomes an X-Men due to being exposed as a mutant. She has no interest in superheroics. She stays on the team to keep them honest (in light of the previous years) and to try and save younger mutants. Plus, I think children who aren't white or male need somebody to look up to.

Rachel Summers
Yes, a Phoenix. It can't be an X-Men team without either a Summers or a Grey family member. I've always like Rachel due to Excalibur. She was the dangerous part of the team, the one with the unknown potential. The reader had no idea what she could do or what she could do. Moments of awesome power were displayed and the reader was left shocked. I'd like to bring her on because she's a younger character, a female, and dangerous. Possible story arcs for her could focus on her lack of childhood, that she was forced to grow up. She empathizes with the young mutants the team helps.

Another Excalibur character. Yes, I know. However, Kurt Wagner is a fascinating character. In broad strokes, he's about honour, friendship, ethics and fun. Nobody on the X-Men is like Nightcrawler. He's always a positive light and he can be a form of comic relief. He's essentially the Human Torch or the Spider-Man of the team. I want to have kids read X-Men, and he's a good way of capturing the imagination and interest of children. Plus, Nightcrawler knows better than anybody else on the team what it is like being a mutant, being an other.

For villains, I'd try and keep it relatively clean from previous continuity. I'd use more human villains, rather than mutants. For a larger arc, I'd focus on the return of the Sentinels and Master Mold, and the humans trying to use them. In terms of larger stories, I would steadfastly avoid time travel or alternate worlds or even space. My X-Men would focus on protecting young mutants from violence and hatred. The X-Men are supposed to be about the Other, and how frightened regular people are about minorities. This is important for kids growing up: that being different isn't negative or positive. It just is.

Notice how there isn't a single member of the team called Wolverine. That's right. I think Wolverine is far too used, far too exposed, and he's lost almost all of the bite that made him so cool in the past. If everybody knows his backstory, and he doesn't kill anymore, what's the point? He's just a short guy (that everybody draws as regular height) with claws. If I was forced by the editorial staff to include Wolverine, I'd write him closer to how Ennis wrote him on the Punisher: smelly, short, grumpy and hairy.

I'd like to see artists such as Stuart Immonen or Marcos Martin on the book. Somebody with a nice clean style, suited for good visual storytelling. I would not want Philip Tan or Greg Land drawing my book. Of course, in a perfect world, I'd love to see Alan Davis draw and even co-write with me. That'd be nice....

I think there are some amazing story potentials with the X-Men. It's just a matter of removing them from the increasingly complicated continuity and adult nature of the stories. Let's get back to what brought us into comics in the first place.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Trio of reviews

You know how I am sometimes: I stumble back into a genre I've stayed away from too long and then I'm trying to read a whole bunch by different authors. I just finished a spy kick, and now I'm looking into a police procedural kick. Instead of writing a thousand words about individual releases, I'm going to do a triple review, covering The Anniversary Man by R. J. Ellory, Echo Park by Michael Connelly and Bloodline by Mark Billingham.

All three have something in common: serial killers. Yes, the most overused villain in modern literature/cinema is here, and in spades. Ellory's novel follows the sole survivor of a serial killer as the survivor helps the New Jersey police with a new rash of serial killings. Echo Park has Connelly's Harry Bosch uncover evidence of a cold case he worked on thanks to a serial killer who was randomly picked up with body parts in his van. Bloodline features DI Tom Thorne as he investigates a serial killer who is targeting the families of survivors of another serial killer.

The first thing to mention here is how much of a debt these books owe to Thomas Harris' Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Without these two books, I don't think the modern police procedural would have anything to say about serial killers. Or rather, the serial killers wouldn't nearly be as sick and twisted as they are. I read both of those books while in high school, and I can guarantee you that my memories do better justice to the books than a re-reading would do. I fully expect neither of them to hold up to scrutiny. However, that being said, they're both ripping good reads who have influenced countless novels and films thanks to their depiction of the modern, crazy serial killer.

These three books approach their subjects in completely different ways. The Anniversary Man has a sprawling cast of policemen, reporters, civilians, and politicians. Its scope is far bigger than one would expect from the synopsis on the dust jacket. Instead of a thriller concerned with catching a crook, Ellory depicts a modern city, struggling with the media, struggling with society's perceptions of a police force, struggling with the budget and finding the funds to even puts cops on the case. I'm hesitant to compare The Anniversary Man to the Wire, but there is some echoes of the TV show. Ellory's detectives aren't super geniuses who create connections from nothing; they are men with too much on their plate.

This theme is picked up slightly by Echo Park. Something that modern mysteries tend to forget is that detectives are often working on multiple cases at the same time. Harry Bosch is working a few cases at the beginning of the novel, but of course, when the plot finally clicks together, all reality is abandoned for thrills. Echo Park starts off with tons of promise, though, which makes the final half of the book so disappointing. Instead of a whodunit, the mystery is more murky as Bosch doesn't really believe the story he's being asked to swallow. The serial killer offers to show Bosch where a body is buried, but things do not add up, making Bosch question if the killer even did this particular murder. There are some interesting ethical questions raised about helping the killer lower his sentence from death to life by cooperating with the cops, but again, these bothersome quandaries are swept away in response to suspense and limited action scenes. Of the three books, Connelly's novel is the most "American" feeling. It's airport fiction.

Mark Billingham's Bloodline is also airport fiction, and my criticisms and praise of it are tempered by that sobering fact. Bloodline is a fantastic read, quick and enthralling. It's almost admirable that Billingham succeeds so well at simply telling a good yarn. His fundamental storytelling skills are strong, and it's nice to read a cracking good thriller that's just simply well done. Its aspirations aren't high, but it manages to reach its goals. Whereas Ellory's novel was concerned with the reality of a police force investigating a killer straight out of Hollywood nonsense, Billingham's novel is concerned with the reality of killer with Hollywood designs. The killer in Bloodline thinks he's going to create a masterpiece, and he certainly tries, but in our world, he's just another name, another killer, another sensation to be forgotten. What remains are the families, the victims, the cops, which is far more true in a humanistic sense than the killer.

Interestingly, two of the three books speak disparagingly of the serial killer subgenre of mystery. More specifically, both Billingham and Ellory have unkind things to say about collectors of murderabilia, about the press' obsession, and even civilian's fascination with serial killers. Billingham takes some pages to have Thorne critique the true crime bestsellers that capitalize on the victims' suffering by wallowing in the celebrity of serial killers. Ellory tries to remind us of the cost that murderabilia has on the victims, and the lasting damage that serial killers cause.

It should be no surprise that the two writers interested in deconstructing this subgenre are British whereas the American writer only wants to tell a story to pass the time. If Billingham's goals are low, then Connelly's are subterranean. His novel was easily the worst I've read in the past month, although this isn't to say that the novel is terrible. It's simply mediocre. The prose is stunningly simple, and Connelly's narration always has to step in and hold the readers' hands, although his characters should be able to handle the heavy lifting themselves. It's a shame because the book starts off with such style and lightness. Harry Bosch, and the secondary characters are well drawn and feel alive. When Connelly brings in the ethical dramas and the hand-wringing, it's good. The novel comes alive when Bosch begins the interrogation of the caught killer at the halfway point of the book. Everything is exciting and the reader wonders where it's going. Unfortunately, it's headed right into illogical territory.

There are two different endings to the whodunit of serial killer subgenre: the revelation that it was somebody the reader already met (see Peace's Red Riding Quartet), or it's a completely random character never introduced before (see Seven or Pelecanos' The Night Gardener). All three novels have different approaches to their reveal. Billingham has the team figure out who the killer is about halfway and then it's a matter of how will they catch him. The other two are whondunits of the classic sense. Both Ellory and Connelly keep the true nature of their killer a mystery up until the very end. They end in opposite ways: one is somebody you suspect, the other is somebody the reader never met and couldn't possibly suspect. However, both Billingham and Ellory ground their works in logic, in detection, in classic mystery rules. Connelly plays fair the entire time, but the solution to his mystery is so far fetched and so unrealistic that it begs the question if Connelly even had the solution when he started the book or if he just made it up along the way, without a thought to logic?

Something that all three novels do not share is the serial detective. Harry Bosch and Tom Thorne appear in multiple novels, having adventures and solving crimes for dozens of books. Ellory's a bit of a lone wolf. He has not written any other book like this one. His other novels remain in the crime or mystery section, but follow different interests and characters. He has written no other serial killer book. The serial detective can be an interesting animal, if the character is interesting in the first place. Marlowe, Poirot, James Bond, Holmes, Kenzie and Gennaro, these are all fascinating people, captivating due to their quirks or their charisma. Both Bosch and Thorne are fairly well drawn and both authors are strong in creating depth. Billingham couches Thorne in domestic problems whereas Bosch is grounded in tension with the administration. Of course, as the most American of all three novels, Bosch is the first to disobey orders and go maverick, altogether annoying and unrealistic. Regardless both remain strong protagonists. If Ellory wrote another novel featuring his New Jersey detective, I would read it. He reminded me somewhat of a Richard Price character.

Connelly's Echo Park was okay. The second half and the illogical ending pretty much make it a no go for me. I don't think I'll be reading another Harry Bosch adventure for awhile. However, Billingham's Bloodline made me excited for his other books. Allegedly, the first two are near masterpieces. Ellory's novel had some dialect issues, as Ellory is not a native of New Jersey; he is English. Some of his characters use phrases and words not commonly used in America, such as fortnight and mobile. Other than this, I forgot most of the time that Ellory is not American. I will take a look at his other books, but selectively.

Overall, I'm pleased with the three novels. All were easy ways to pass the time and engage me as a reader. I feel the need to read "trash" before university starts. At least the "trash" I'm reading does what it does well. I like the way they do business.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Upsetting news of the day

Jezebel, one of Gawker's offspring sites, is reporting on something so absolutely heinous that I felt compelled to rise creaking from my absence. If you click here, you're going to read some particularly disturbing stuff, so bear that in mind.

A Missouri girl in seventh grade, in special ed, reported a rape at the hands of another student. She was questioned repeatedly, under "intimidating" circumstances, and then recanted. The school concluded that the girl was seeking attention and approval. She was also expelled for her accusation of rape. The school allegedly forced her to write an apology and proceeded to coerce her in giving the handwritten apology to her accused rapist. The following school year, when she returned, despite her mother asking for increased monitoring, her alleged rapist managed to rape the girl a second time. Thankfully, a juvenile court became involved and was able to determine that yes, at least this time, the rapist did commit rape. There is no dispute about this fact.

The mother is suing the school for allowing this to happen. However, the school's response is frightening: they are denying ever allegation. Jezebel quotes the school's response:
Plaintiff's claims against the District are frivolous, and have no basis in fact or law. Therefore, the District Defendants are entitled to an award of their reasonable attorneys' fees and costs.

Any damages the Plaintiff may have sustained were as a result of the negligence, carelessness, or conduct of third parties over whom the District Defendants had neither control nor the right to control.
This is unconscionable. This is ludicrous. This is infuriating. This might be one of the most wrongheaded and awful things a bureaucracy has ever done. The fact that the attacker raped the girl is an undisputed fact. Add to this that the school had prior knowledge of an alleged rape, whether or not the girl recanted under duress. This means that the school is responsible for the safety of those attending. I can't believe I have to even say that. The school allowed through criminal negligence the rape. And on top of this, they are denying everything.

I didn't really comment on the Canadian judge who so wrongly told a rape victim that she was "asking for it" because I thought anything I added to this debate was simply noise. I'm reporting this story because I think Jezebel is on the right track: we must get the word out on these incidents. A society that allows this is happen is not doing its job. The society's job is to protect its citizens from harm, even if that harm is from each other. When an institution of the society, an agreed authority, allows through negligence sexual violence, then it is not doing its job. Simply put, schools are for educating children. What lesson is this school teaching when it cannot even take responsibility for its (in)action?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Catch up post

I suppose apologies are in order for my lapse in posting. It's been a busy week, I guess. Here's a catch-up post so you know where I am.

I've read three and a half books since the last one reviewed, but I haven't found the energy to review them. I won't divulge which books they are. That would spoil the surprise. Somewhere in me there's a couple ounces of energy that I will find to write these reviews. Again, sorry about the delay.

I've been watching Rescue Me the past couple weeks. I'm up to season 4 already. It's alternatively hilarious, disturbing, confounding and beautiful. I love it. I also started watching Parenthood, if only because of Peter Krause. It's only okay.

I've been listening to a shitload of music. Especially the new Kanye West Jay-Z album called "Watch the Throne". It's fantastic. I've been listening to artists such as Shad, Kendrick Lamar, and Tyler the Creator.

Here are some authors I've been dabbling in: Michael Connelly, R. J. Ellory, Charlie Owen, Joseph Wambaugh.

I just came back from Minneapolis and Albertville. I bought a whole bunch of clothes. I fit into medium size shirts now. Well, depending on the store, I guess. At Aéropostale, I found the most perfect fitting shirt in the arms. It was fantastic. My arms are long and the shirt was perfect. Too bad that the torso was just so wide. I would need a huge belly to fit in the shirt. Oh well.

I stupidly took a break from working out. I also ate shitty food. I gained 10 pounds. Sigh. Oh well, I'm back on the exercise train.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Scream 4

Sydney Prescott has come back to Woodsboro to promote her new book which, in her words, recasts her out of the role of victim. Of course, it's an anniversary of the original murders, so obviously somebody starts cutting people up. Sydney is joined by Dewey, now sheriff, and Gail, now novelist. There's Sydney's young cousin and her friends and the violence begins anew.

Okay, here's the thing. When I was in university, I wrote a really big novel about a writer who creates a TV show about his own life and then writes himself into it. Then, a fictionalized version of myself comes along and helps write it with the main character. There's a discussion in which "I" ask James, the writer, if this one particular subplot is a little too obvious. James explains that by mentioning how obvious it is, it excuses it from its crime. Of course, this doesn't justify lazy plotting. By pointing it out, a writer isn't being clever or "meta" - they're simply finding a lazy way of apologizing to the audience about how lazy they are.

That sums up Scream 4. A new Scream for a new generation, a remake, a reboot, a sequel, it's all three, and it's terrible. But so entertaining for some bizarre reason. Over articulate teens run around and get slashed up by a killer while the audience chortles guffaws and tries to puzzle out who the killer is. This Scream is no different than the other Screams structurally speaking. It is more "hip" and self-referential though. The fake-out intro gets repeated three times in the movie. That's a lot. Plus, the overly articulate teens get to pontificate about the regurgitation of horror tropes in a post-Scream world. Yes, the teens themselves point out how tired this is, and we're supposed to laugh and say, "oh yeah! it sure is!"

Scream 4 is well shot. It has some laughs. It has some scares. And the reveal of who is the killer - while illogical - is shocking. But it's the killer's motivation that's utterly disturbing. It feels like the writer, Kevin Williamson (of Scream 1 and 2) is angry at the world. It's not the reviewer's job to guess at the screenwriter's psyche, but I got a very angry vibe from the whole thing. I'm not sure why, Williamson himself ushered in the whole self-aware horror craze. He has pretty teens go on diatribes about horror, and I'm not supposed to think Williamson thinks these things?

I mentioned it was entertaining. Yes, unfortunately, it is. This is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. At least the first Scream was genre-defining and genre-defying. At least it was intelligent and well-written. It influenced a whole generation. What does this new Scream have to say other than horror movies are all retreads? Scream 4 has nothing intelligent to add to the horror canon. It's simply a self-aware remake with an illogical ending that doesn't play by its own rules. The end is unfair. Plus there are a million characters to keep track of so it could have been anybody.

A bolder Scream 4 would have had a less politicized ending ("who do I have to kill to be famous?") and a more meta ending. Kind of like Craven's own New Nightmare, which still stands as a) a scary horror movie and b) an intelligent look at the gripping nature of horror movies. If Scream 4 didn't have an agenda, then I might have enjoyed it a little bit better. Perhaps the end of Scream 4 could have positioned Gail or even Sidney not as reactive victims but as proactive vigilantes. Surprisingly, the second Saw film does this to great effect and within the bonds of its own themes. If the theme of Scream 4 is recast our roles, then it missed the mark. Other than shuffling around a few stereotypes, Scream 4 says nothing articulate about rewriting our own history. The best it can say about not allowing ourselves to be a victim is when Sidney chases after the killer without any backup, but this is a motif taken from the third Scream movie. It's been done before.

However, mentioning that it has been done before doesn't excuse the tiredness of the setup or the plot. I realize it's almost asinine to expect Scream movies to bring something new to the table considering they are the melting pots of the horror world. But that takes away from the original's freshness and uniqueness. Adding more Screams to the pot simply weakens the tastes and turns my stomach, regardless of how well it's shot or how scary it might be. I expect more from a Scream movie than this and all I got was pretty teens getting cut up.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Alec Leamas is a burnt out spy, the head of operations in West Berlin, shortly before the completion of the Wall. After one of his agents is killed on his way over the border, Leamas is sent back to London to be quietly retired in a series of desk jobs. But one day, Control, the head of the Circus comes to him with one last mission, afterwards, he can come in from the cold and peacefully retire.

There are some novels out there that once you read them, you get depressed because you know that no matter how long you write and how well you think you'll do, you will never be able to write anything as good as this one book you just read. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is one of those books.

I said in my review for A Most Wanted Man that the game the spies are playing wasn't complicated enough. This book? It's the opposite. This is one of the most complex and convoluted books I've ever read and my edition has no more than 190 pages. That's incredible. Within a small novella, Le Carré creates a spy novel morally murky and complicated. This is the best spy novel I've ever read. Yep. I said it.

What makes it so good is of course, Le Carré's prose. As usual, his way with words is unmatched. He's such a strong prose stylist. Every single sentence flows nicely and it's all punctuated with strong and utterly unique dialogue. Nobody speaks in a boring way.

Plus, Le Carré isn't doing any old spy novel. He's doing something that changed how people look at spy organizations. Both the Circus and the Stasi come off looking as pretty much the same, morally speaking. The ending of the novel is devastating and says something rather shocking about the institution of spying. It's well done.

This novel is practically perfect. One can feel that it was written in haste, with feverish speed. I read it in two sittings and I was simply enthralled the entire time. This is exactly why I read spy novels and this is why I'm glad I tried again and again with Le Carré. He's a master of the spy novel. This is a short review because I can't think of anything to say about it other than I love this book. So there you go.