Silverview: by John Le Carré

Oh what a marvelous novel.  I’ve read a few books by John Le Carré but it was a long time ago, a few in the 1980s I think, and then a couple more later.  I always enjoyed them but not enough to really pursue. His son, Nick Cornwall, finished Silverview after Carré’s death and it was published in 2021.  


Silverview: A Novel
by John le Carré

2021 (223 pages)
Read by: Toby Jones 6h 28m
Rating – 9.5/A; espionage 

This seemed different from Le Carré’s prior novels in that there’s a certain edginess missing. But that’s replaced in some way with a slight melancholy which is wonderfully well rendered. It’s the end of things, the winding up and closing for Carré as well as for certain characters in the book.

There is still that characteristic “moral ambivalence” which has been widely noted. Silverview is not your typical spy novel in which there’s a “good guy” and “bad guy” who chase each other around a needle disguised. The tricks and deceptions and secretiveness are all still there though. 

“Who do we find when we pull away the layers of disguise?”   

The 33-year old Julian Lawndsley left his lucrative job in the big city to move to a small town by the sea and open a bookshop. Then one day Edward Avon, a neighbor and retired academic who lives just up the road at the Silverview mansion pays a visit. As it turns out, that’s not all quite accurate. Edward is really a field agent for England’s MI6. But he’s a charming old duff who seems to know quite a lot about Julian’s family so without being aware of the reality, Julian is talked into opening a “Republic of Literature,” a special bookstore-within-a-bookstore and the two become good friends- kind of.

Meanwhile, Stewart Proctor, the chief of domestic security has received a letter telling of multiple leaks from his agency and he’s checking out leads. Edward Avon, and by association Julian, come within his scope. These three men are as different as they can be. Julian is innocence itself, almost a bystander, but sucked right into the vortex. Edward is like a chameleon who becomes whatever appearance is called for on the outside but always maintaining a solid commitment to his inner morals and convictions on the inside. And there’s Proctor who doesn’t understand Edward a bit, but is as much a “company man” as anyone. 

And there are women involved – Edward’s wife and their adult daughter as well as a beautiful and mysterious woman called Mary, and the married couple who were Edward’s prior handlers. So the tale becomes more complex although NOT as complex as many of Le Carré’s novels. It seemed perfect for me, for now.  And I may have to go hunt up some of the adventures I missed from long ago. 

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4 Responses to Silverview: by John Le Carré

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    #Snap# For the first time ever, I’m reading one of his spy novels that I found in a neighbourhood library. I tried one once years ago, at the time when I enjoyed the Bond films, but I couldn’t get into it.
    Reading it today, it’s so easy to see how the book sets out from the very beginning to demonise The Bad Guys. The Soviets immediately hire the serial killer because, you know, they are The Bad Guys. Not like us, we are The Good Guys… The world was so black and white during the Cold War.

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    • I’ve never read a Bond book but it seems to me they would be less serious than Le Carré/ Years ago, many 1992 (?) that it was over now for Le Carré – the Russians were no longer an enemy. Silverview doesn’t have that perspective at all. I think maybe the enemy is the bureau itself. ??

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  2. MI6 says:

    Silverview – yet another epic classic from the master who once rejected a collaboration with the real secret agent Bill Fairclough aka Edward Burlington Codename JJ! If you are a le Carré connoisseur, a Deighton devotee, a Fleming fanatic, a Herron hireling or even a Macintyre marauder and like raw noir espionage thrillers, do read Beyond Enkription, a must read for espionage cognoscenti and the first fact based stand-alone spy novel in The Burlington Files series by Bill Fairclough. Odds on you’ll read it twice if you’ve already devoured Tinker Tailor, The Ipcress File, Slow Horses or The Spy and The Traitor. Just ask George Smiley, Harry Palmer, Jackson Lamb or even Oleg Gordievsky what they thought of Bill Fairclough aka Edward Burlington, the protagonist in The Burlington Files.

    Mind you, Oleg might refuse to comment. In real life he knew MI6’s Colonel Alan Brooke Pemberton CVO MBE aka Colonel Alan McKenzie (Mac) in The Burlington Files. In real life Alan was MI6’s hapless handler who had to try and control the maverick Fairclough who coincidentally had quite a lot in common with Greville Wynne and has even been called “a posh Harry Palmer”. Bill Fairclough and John le Carré (aka David Cornwell) knew of each other but only long after Cornwell’s MI6 career ended thanks to Kim Philby. Coincidentally, the novelist Graham Greene used to work in MI6 reporting to Philby and Bill Fairclough actually stayed in Hôtel Oloffson during a covert op in Haiti (explained in Beyond Enkription) which was at the heart of Graham Greene’s spy novel The Comedians. Funny it’s such a small world!

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