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Absolute Friends

Posted - Mar. 21, 2004 at 9:50 a.m.



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Absolute Friends by John Le Carre

This novel reminded me of that type of movie you go to, and you think you should be enjoying it, but you never quite figure out what's going on and you never can quite bring yourself to care about any of the characters. I plodded through Absolute Friends, wanting to enjoy it, succeeding from time to time with bits of description and intrique, but finding I was frequently daydreaming about what I would be reading next.

The "absolute friends" of le Carre's new novel are Ted Mundy (I could never get over the sound of that name being so close to Ted Bundy) and Sasha. They meet after World War II in Germany and become politicially radical crusaders, spray painting buildings, demonstrating until they're jailed and beaten. Their ideas feel noble and youthful in that stage of their lives, but as they age the dance becomes sort of tortured. First, they become spies, and then double agents, and then possibly terrorists - you never quite now - and that's the problem with the book. You never quite know much of anything.

And you want to. You want to know why Ted Mundy, such an unlikely candidate for a double agent, could find himself in this life of passwords and secret codes and phony passports. I picture Mundy looking something like Garrison Keillor. Can you picture Garrison Keillor as a double agent sneaking Polish radicals over the German border? No. That's the dilemma with this book. Nothing ever feels quite right. It's so hard to relate to anything that it all seems like a caricature in the end.

I know there are many le Carre readers who enjoyed this book very much, so please take my experience with a grain of salt. The fault here may be in the reader and not in the book. My experience with the book was akin to going to see an art film you think you should see because it might expand your mind and your understanding of the world, but you never (if you're honest) really enjoy it. With that disclaimer, I give a lukewarm recommendation to John le Carre's latest bestseller - Absolute Friends. On the Book Beat for KSL Newsradio 1160, I'm Amanda Dickson.

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