Silverview by John le Carré
John le Carré’s son, Nick Cornwell, laughs when I tell him “how swiftly I was lost” to his father’s newly published posthumous novel, says Damian Whitworth in The Times. “He’s an absolute sod, isn’t he? It’s just extraordinary. He gets you for five seconds and you’re stuffed.” Cornwell, 48, discovered the finished manuscript for Silverview (Viking £20) “in a drawer” after le Carré’s death last year. It’s unclear when the novel was written – his best guess is 2014 – or why it wasn’t published earlier. But he says his father “devolved responsibility” for the decision about whether it should be published to his children. “Sometimes material that’s published posthumously is bad and it shouldn’t be published. And this just doesn’t fall into that category. It’s a genuinely good book.”
The critics agree. The Telegraph’s Jake Kerridge describes the novel – which concerns a former City trader, a mysterious Polish émigré, and a British intelligence agent responsible for unmasking turncoat agents – as “classic le Carré”. In the FT, Tobias Grey says the author’s ability to inhabit the deepest recesses of his characters’ lives” is on “sparkling display”. The only serious complaint, says James Owen in The Times, is that it feels “undercooked, as if le Carré had planned to drop more ingredients into the pot”.
There’s probably a good reason for that, the author’s son tells Whitworth. Editing a le Carré manuscript used to be “the terror of publishers everywhere” – he would “tear up the book and move everything around; drove them crazy”. With Silverview, however, you have “the book as he wrote it”. The big question is whether there are any more books lying around in drawers – le Carré was said to have been working on something involving characters from his much-loved Smiley novels. “He was, it’s true, working on some Smiley stories at some point,” says Cornwell. “The degree to which they are finished, publishable, collatable is something we’ll find out.”
Available as an audiobook on Audible, narrated by Toby Jones.
A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris
“It must be exhausting” being David Sedaris, says Ben Dowell in The Times. Famous for his exquisitely crafted comic essays – collections of which sell in the millions – the American humorist travels the world collecting stories and anecdotes “as a lepidopterist would butterflies”. His second collection of diaries, A Carnival of Snackery (Little, Brown £20), is for the most part a “delightful” compendium of these brilliant vignettes. Some entries are short anecdotes, like when he ate pizza left by a stranger in an airport lounge, only for the stranger to return from the loo. “What, Sedaris wonders, would the man think if he’d caught him in the act?”
Much of Sedaris’s material comes from his famously lengthy book signings, says Frances Wilson in The Spectator. “Not for him the quickly scrawled signature followed by the brush-off.” He provokes reactions from fans by asking for their favourite jokes. “I been waiting for five hours,” one woman deadpans. “How’s that for funny?”
But these are diaries that shouldn’t be read cover to cover, says John Self in The Observer. Instead, as the title suggests, they’re for snacking on, “to keep the appetite for delight and absurdity satisfied until the next Sedaris book comes along”.
Available as an audiobook on Kobo, narrated by the author.
Vintage fiction: Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev’s celebrated novel came out in 1862, at a time of intense intergenerational conflict, and hit a raw nerve. It tells the story of Arkady, an idealistic student who brings his new friend Bazarov back from university to meet his father and uncle. The reunion doesn’t go as planned. Bazarov, a staunch nihilist, ridicules the traditional Russian values held dear by the older generation, who in turn despair at the ignorance of the young.
Eugene Schuyler, the American scholar who first translated Fathers and Sons into English, wrote in 1867: “A tempest was raised in Russia by its appearance… Each generation found the picture of the other very life-like, but their own very badly drawn. The fathers protested, and the sons were enraged… of course, the more it was abused the more it was read.”
Although it was written more than a century ago, the novel resonates strongly at a time when millennials and boomers are locking horns over questions of free speech and political correctness. If Turgenev had been writing in the 21st century, he’d have had Bazarov crying: “OK boomer!”
Available as an audiobook on Scribd.