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The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener by John le Carré

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."

I don't know how accurately le Carré portrayed Africa or Anglo-African relations.

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.

View all my (goodreads.com) reviews This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/680845.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 2nd, 2010 10:09 pm (UTC)
It was a good movie, I think--I liked it for the same reasons you liked the book. Ralph Fiennes did a good job as the polished Englishman.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
I saw the movie before I read the book. The movie was better at giving you a sense of place (they filmed in a Kenyan slum, and tried to do the right thing by setting up a trust to help improve conditions going forward). I liked the plot of the book better though. (In particular the movie changed the ending in a way that undermined the political message of the original book.)
Jul. 3rd, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
I actually decided not to read the book because Tessa was already dead. I've been a fan of le Carre for a long time, but for some reason that was too much for me.

Jul. 4th, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
That's a valid choice. Which le Carré books don't tweak your "female voices silenced or othered" irritation? Maybe I've become oversensitive but I've been re-reading them over the past few years and they all do now.
Jul. 4th, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
Alas, they all do; it's just that I'm used to the older ones, having read them so many times, whereas a new one doing the same thing, even if less of it, just didn't get the slack I cut for the ones I first read so long ago. The reading mind is a funny thing.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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