The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - COVER STORY BOOKS - By Alastair Mab­bott

The Man Who Was Ge­orge Smi­ley by Michael Jago (Bite­back, £9.99)

Even if he hadn’t been the model for John Le Carré’s spy­mas­ter, John Bing­ham would have made a wor­thy can­di­date for a biog­ra­phy. “Unglam­orous, stocky … tac­i­turn, a pa­tient lis­tener”, Bing­ham was, in Jago’s es­ti­ma­tion, “one of the true crafts­men of es­pi­onage”. He was born into a formerly grand but de­clin­ing An­glo-Ir­ish dy­nasty, his par­ents de­prived of all but the most ba­sic al­lowance by a steely ma­tri­arch and mainly leav­ing their son to fend for him­self. Jago shows how Bing­ham emerged from his soli­tary aris­to­cratic back­ground with an un­com­mon de­gree of com­pas­sion and in­sight which served him well both in MI5 and as the au­thor of 18 thrillers. He was nev­er­the­less left in the shade by his pro­tégé Le Carré, whose cyn­i­cal por­trayal of MI5 Bing­ham re­fused to ac­cept. More ac­counts of clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions would have been wel­come, but this is a very well-rounded view of the life and times of a no­table fig­ure.

Echoland by Per Pet­ter­son (Vin­tage, £8.99)

Although this is the eighth Pet­ter­son novel to be trans­lated into English, Echoland was only his sec­ond book, pub­lished in 1989. It’s about Arvid, a 12-year-old Nor­we­gian boy whose Ital­ian ances­try en­cour­ages his habit of self-mythol­o­gis­ing. In the pe­riod cov­ered by this novel, a fam­ily hol­i­day to his grand­par­ents’ home in Den­mark, he’s at the stage where he wants to break some of the parental ties and es­tab­lish him­self as an in­di­vid­ual. Although he’s sur­rounded by un­re­solved do­mes­tic is­sues, Arvid is too self-ab­sorbed to ap­pre­ci­ate what other mem­bers of the fam­ily are go­ing through. It’s an al­lu­sive book, with so much of what’s driv­ing its char­ac­ters re­main­ing un­spo­ken. As an early work, it shows signs of the au­thor Pet­ter­son would be­come, but for all the prom­ise Echoland doesn’t fully de­liver.

An­other Brook­lyn by Jacque­line Wood­son (Oneworld, £8.99)

Wood­son is a pro­lific au­thor of young adult fic­tion, and though this book fo­cuses on the friend­ship of four teenage girls, it’s told from the per­spec­tive of Au­gust, an older, well-trav­elled woman, im­bu­ing her story with depth and nu­ance. At eight years old, she and her brother were taken by her fa­ther from their Ten­nessee farm to Brook­lyn. Her mother didn’t come with them, and Au­gust’s life has partly been de­fined by this ab­sence. We see her in early-1970s New York, bond­ing with Sylvia, An­gela and Gigi, and de­spite all they en­dure, in­clud­ing the at­ten­tions of preda­tory males and a seem­ingly in­evitable be­trayal, the friend­ship, beauty and strength of th­ese African-Amer­i­can girls is clear. Au­gust stresses her story is about mem­ory rather than the events them­selves, so it’s an im­pres­sion­is­tic nar­ra­tive, told in prose that’s spare but al­ways with an un­der­ly­ing po­etry.

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