The Night Manager by John Le Carré
I can’t be the only person who is eagerly anticipating the BBC’s adaptation of Le Carré’s 1993 novel The Night Manager this weekend. Hiddleston and Laurie feel like perfect casting, and I’d watch anything with Olivia Colman in. Interestingly, Colman’s character is male in the book, but Le Carré himself has said that making Burr female works even better, they even built Colman’s pregnancy into the adaptation.
L=>R: Hugh Laurie as Richard Roper, Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine, Elizabeth Debicki as Jed Marshall, Olivia Colman as Angela Burr, and Tom Hollander as Major Corkoran. Photo Credit: Mitch Jenkins/The Ink Factory/AMC
However, I always prefer to read the book before watching it on screen and this is one of the few Le Carré novels I’ve not read – so this week I have mostly been reading The Night Manager – from my original trade paperback copy (left) bought in 1993, (yet another book from the TBR that would fail the Kondo test!). I see Penguin Modern Classics had brought out a new edition with a fabulous caged tiger on the cover (below), and a TV tie-in version too!
Published in 1993, The Night Manager was Le Carré’s first post Cold-War novel:
Jonathan Pine is the orphan son of a German beauty and a British army hero, who, after a failed marriage and leaving the army where he was in a special forces unit in Ireland, is trying to escape his past. He takes a post in the hotel trade, first in Cairo, where he falls for the mistress of an arms dealer who has connections to “the worst man in the world” Richard Onslow Roper. Sophie loves him back – but is murdered when Pine passes on documents from her to the Egyptian authorities to MI6 also. Roper’s tentacles spread very wide.
He moves to a luxury hotel in Zurich where he becomes the Night Manager, and it is here that he lets himself be recruited as a British agent so he can expose Roper and atone for causing Sophie’s death. He meets Roper and his entourage when they all come to the hotel one evening – including his ‘signer’ Major Corkoran, bodyguards Frisky and Tabby, the lascivious and crooked Lord Langbourne – and Jed – Roper’s mistress.
And at their centre yet apart from them, The Man, as only The Man could be after Sophie’s furious descriptions of him. Tall, slender, and at first glance noble. Fair hair stirred with grey, swept back and flicked into little horns above the ears. A face to play cards against and lose. The stance that arrogant Englishmen do the best, one knee cocked, one hand backed against the colonial arse. Freddie is so weak, Sophie had explained. And Roper is so English.
… ‘I’m Dicky Roper,’ a lazy voice announced as the hand closed around Jonathan’s, and briefly owned it. ‘My chaps booked some rooms here. Rather a lot of ’em. How d’you do?’ Belgravia slur, the proletarian accent of the vastly rich. They had entered each others’s private space. (p23/4)
Pine’s handler in the British Secret Service is Leonard Burr, who goes about constructing a new history for Pine to make him attractive to Roper. Getting him into Roper’s inner circle will be very difficult. He leaves the hotel for remote Cornwall, where they stage a murder to make him a wanted man who flees to Canada where he takes another man’s identity, ending up as a cook in a restaurant frequented by Roper and co in Nassau, in the Bahamas, near which Roper owns an island as his base. The agents stage a kidnap of Roper’s son with Pine saving the day. Roper is so grateful – and Jonathan is in, although Corky remains wary of him and checks every detail of Pine, now known as Thomas out. Being part of Roper’s jet-setting crew and feeding information back to Burr will be difficult enough, without the beautiful Jed to distract…
Meanwhile a turf-war is going on between the Americans at Langley – who also want Roper, and the various different agencies within the British Secret Service. The factions within the two organisations all want a piece of Roper too, and would like to take control of ‘Operation Limpet’. It’s Brits vs. Yanks, Yanks vs. Brits, Brits vs. Brits, Yanks vs. Yanks! Burr knows that Pine’s cover is more likely to be blown, the more people are involved, so plays a waiting game with great skill and determination.
Will they get Roper? What’ll happen to Jed? Will Pine survive?
The complexity of the inter and intra agency infighting is typical Le Carré with Burr as the vital outsider, in some respects like George Smiley. It was often difficult to keep up with the changing alliances who always seem to talk in riddles laden with deeper meaning, but Burr is the chief interest in this scenario, the rest is just chatter most of the time.
Jonathan however, is a real enigma. Early on in the novel, while accidentally locked in the hotel’s wine-cellar, he contemplates his life so far:
And gradually it dawned on him, if a dawning can take place in total blackness, that his life had consisted of a run of rehearsals for a play e had failed to take part in. And that what he needed to do from now on, if there was going to be a now on, was abandon his morbid quest for order, and treat himself to a little chaos, on the grounds that while order was demonstrably no substitute for happiness, chaos might open the way to it. (p50)
What I particularly loved about this book was its perfect combination of thriller action and the office politics of espionage; something that the James Bond novels have too – but they’re just fun. The Night Manager felt painfully real and utterly serious, its pages make it very clear that going undercover requires skill, judgement and the guts to take the strain knowing the consequences should it go wrong. One of Le Carré’s finest novels. (10/10)
P.S. I am now looking forward to the TV adaptation even more. I can see that making Burr a woman will add another dimension to the intrigue too.
* * * * *
Source: Own Copy
John Le Carré, The Night Manager (1993) – paperback, 480 pages.