John le Carré often writes about conforming, compromised men who are inspired by the love of a woman to fight corruption and otherwise do brave/humanitarian things. This one is set in Africa, mainly Nairobi, and the corruption involves international pharmaceutical corporations. The man is Justin, a British diplomat. The woman is Tessa, his wife, an aid activist.
Is it based on reality? The author's note (which was not included on the audio CD) includes the following statement: "As my journey through the pharmaceutical jungle progressed, (in which a number of people were murdered, others killed with experimental drugs, and governments and universities corrupted), I came to realise that, by comparison with the reality, my story was as tame as a holiday postcard."
Tessa, the inspirational female character in this book, has more agency, purpose, and intelligence than the inspirational women in many of le Carré's other books. However, the entire story of this book takes place after her death so what she did is told only through the minds of various other characters. This is a general limitation of le Carré; he mostly doesn't get into the heads of his female characters, and when he tries, it doesn't feel right. So it's probably to the benefit of this novel that he didn't try this time.
One thing I like about le Carré's books is that often his protagonists (middle/upper class British men who work for the government) use politeness and "mild-mannered" personality traits as tools. (His most famous character, George Smiley, is a good example.) I like the way he describes a man who starts questioning his own culture and its motivations/methods, becoming an outsider to his own culture. The character essentially assumes his own personality as a form of camouflage and passes in order to get certain things done. I think this is delightfully subversive.
This audio version was well narrated by Michael Jayston.
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