The re­turn of Smi­ley; a bi­og­ra­pher looks back; and 63 es­says full of won­der

The Guardian - Review - - Review -

Big crit­i­cal guns were wheeled out to review the lat­est and pos­si­bly last Ge­orge Smi­ley novel, John le Carré’s

A Legacy of Spies . The Ob­server’s

Robert McCrum called Le Carré “a grand old man of English let­ters con­duct­ing a masterclass in the genre he has made his own ... he re­mains a great con­tem­po­rary writer, whose work will al­ways be read and reread”, and the Evening Stan­dard’s David

Sex­ton con­firmed that “he has pulled it off … Le Carré has not lost his touch … such a gift”. Sex­ton thought that “to make any sense of the tan­gle of de­cep­tions here you need at least to know, if not the whole oeu­vre, Tinker Tai­lor Sol­dier Spy” and Wil­liam Boyd, writ­ing in the New States­man, called it a “com­plex and beau­ti­fully elab­o­rate nar­ra­tive” for peo­ple “who have read and ab­sorbed … The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”. Boyd Tonkin

wrote in the Fi­nan­cial Times: “Start here as a novice ... and the ex­quis­ite bewil­der­ment of nav­i­gat­ing map-less through quick­sands will drop you fast into Le Carré-land.” Tonkin de­scribed it as a “som­bre, med­i­ta­tive novel with an un­coded blast at Brexit Bri­tain” and re­in­forced the mes­sage that “Le Carré has made and peo­pled a myth. Myths do not age.”

An­other lit­er­ary gi­ant look­ing back over a life­time was the ac­claimed bi­og­ra­pher Claire To­ma­lin, who has fi­nally writ­ten her own mem­oir, A

Life of My Own – a life with more than its fair share of be­reave­ments and chal­lenges, but lots of gos­sip, too. Crit­ics found it fas­ci­nat­ing, but just a lit­tle with­held. “… Ab­sorb­ing, mov­ing and mar­vel­lously writ­ten… clear, level, un­heated ...” be­gan Kate

Kell­away in the Ob­server. “Her lack of self-im­por­tance is re­fresh­ing, her con­sid­er­a­tion for oth­ers ad­mirable, but I’d have liked her to in­dulge her­self – and us – with a lit­tle more about her life now ...” “She speaks from the heart, but re­tains a sort of pri­vacy, and is all the more pow­er­ful for it,” agreed Claire Har­man in the Evening Stan­dard. “A Life of My Own

is an an­ti­dote to the pappy, pop mo­ti­va­tion of Sh­eryl Sand­berg and Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton, with their Lean In and Thrive man­i­festos,” wrote

Laura Free­man in the Times. “To­ma­lin is like a glacier, un­stop­pable, in­ex­orable, gath­er­ing grit and re­solve as she goes … She is in­ti­mate and con­fid­ing, dis­trust­ful and reclu­sive. She is like a new friend who spills se­crets, pours out her heart, then shuts up like a clamshell when you ask for more.”

The 63 short es­says in Karl Ove Knaus­gaard’s Au­tumn “can inch close to the trite, seem­ingly over-im­pressed with his child­like vi­sion of the world”, wrote Stu­art Evers in the Ob­server. No, no, they “cap­ture the won­der of things with pho­to­graphic im­me­di­acy”, ac­cord­ing to Melissa Kat­soulis in the Times, who added that “it all feels as Scandi as Moomins and salty liquorice”. On the con­trary, the book is one “brain fart” af­ter an­other – “a book of rough sketches by a man who doesn’t know how to draw”, said the Sun­day Times’s Claire

Low­don. Or per­haps it is “all beau­ti­fully done”, in the view of the Evening Stan­dard’s Wil­liam Leith, for whom Knaus­gaard “de­scribes things with a brac­ing sense of in­no­cence – or­di­nary things, such as rub­ber boots, teeth, frogs and plas­tic bags”.

Parul Se­h­gal in the New York Times saw it from both sides. The mini es­says are “full of won­ders”, she Kicker … Cap­tion wrote. “There are mis­fires (the toi­let for crit­i­cal eye book bowl, he rhap­sodises, is the ‘swan of here the bath cham­ber’) but fewer than you’d ex­pect.”

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