Rediscovered Classics: The Night Manager

Posted on 1st February 2016 by Sally Campbell
The Night Manager is a claustrophobic thriller set in a chaotic, murky, post-Cold War world. The BBC adaptation of the book will air at the end of February.

Le Carre’s first post-Cold War novel epitomises his work as a thriller-writer:  The Night Manager is rich in detail, pulsing with drive, propelled by exceptional dialogue and executed with panache. It is also the basis for a new BBC series, released at the end of the month.

Robert McCrum put it perfectly when he wrote in The Guardian: “Opening a new Le Carré novel is like stepping into a hushed and well-appointed London club. The tone is English and metropolitan, the mood sombre but enthralling, even intimidating. As readers, we have to be on our mettle, but we also know we'll be well cared for by a silver-haired major-domo who has already chalked up more than half a century of dedicated service.”

Set after the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Night Manager depicts the crisis spies faced as they had to adapt  to the new world order. This is a murkier more chaotic world than that of Le Carre’s earlier novels. Here, we meet jaded ex-spies, corrupt politicians, extremely rich drug dealers and vulnerable women. The line dividing the good from the bad is more ambiguous than ever. Agents have had to embark on cunning ventures to re-direct their skills, and spymasters have had to find new targets.

But the target of the current operation is no less villainous. Richard Onslow Roper is a smooth, international business man, who deals in arms and drugs. He is “the worst man in the world” and the kind of villain that dazzles while he disgusts, his appearances bring exuberance to the story. Tangled up in this tale is a man compelled to try and foil Roper, the night manager of a Zurich hotel.

Throughout, Le Carre shines in his honed, witty descriptions of characters that skewer an entire personality in one sentence. The dialogue is, as always, pitch-perfect, and the plot draws out the tension artfully.

Essentially, The Night Manger showcases a grandmaster of the thriller genre, unperturbed by the changing political climate, tackling themes of injustice and corruption with as much zeal as ever.

As Ian McEwan famously said in 2013, Le Carre “should have won the Booker Prize years ago”.


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