The Naïve and Sentimental Lover

Some of my favorite films are based on novels written by John le Carré. The Russia House, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener, and even The Tailor of Panama. So naturally I decided to start reading his novels.

I began with The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (I haven’t seen the film), and that was pretty good. After that, I decided to start reading his novels in order of publication. Somehow, I had assumed that all of his novels would be spy thrillers. The first two were really murder mysteries, but I didn’t really catch on, and they were alright. The next two were spy novels, but definitely not thrillers. Instead, they portrayed dysfunctional agencies. All the characters, including the protagonist, were unlikable, and I didn’t much care for them. Nevertheless, I sought to push onward.

Then I reached The Naïve and Sentimental Lover, and boy was that a surprise.

It’s not a spy novel of any kind. It’s not a murder mystery. I don’t know what to say it is, except perhaps literature.

The protagonist (Cassidy) is unlikable, not because he is wealthy, but because he is simultaneously full of himself and spineless and gullible. He doesn’t really seem to want anything, and he lets things just happen to him. He meets Shamus, who easily twists him around his finger. Shamus is unlikable as a character because he has no boundaries. They end up in some kind of bisexual relationship, with Cassidy throwing his money at Shamus. Helen is likable, simply because she is nice and agreeable, but she doesn’t have any will of her own.

Anyway, I struggled to get through the novel, and the only reason I kept going beyond the first couple of chapters is that I was waiting for it to turn into a spy story. It didn’t, obviously.

However, it did eventually demonstrate some redeeming qualities. It was very well written. le Carré’s style and prose were excellent. There were also moments of being very surreal, no longer telling a story but painting a picture of feelings and impressions.

I just wish he would write protagonists I didn’t despise.

Anyway, I’ve decided I no longer want to read everything he has written. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is next anyway, but after that, I’m going to skip anything that isn’t certain to be a good spy novel.