Wow, wow and more wow. If you have been following the recent TV series based on this novel, you will know and appreciate what a gripping, nerve wracking ride it is. It is not often one says this, but the series has done such justice to this novel, first published in 1993 and written by the best spy writer in the world (in my opinion). It cannot be easy to replot/set a terrific story, so relevant for its time in the aftermath of the Iran/Iraq war, into a setting and plot so current for now. The background setting for the novel is arms trading and South American drug cartels, the action moving from from the Middle East and Europe to the Bahamas and Panama, whereas the TV series is arms trading alone in the Middle East with all the action taking place in Turkey, Egypt, south of Spain and the border area between Turkey and Syria. The characters are exactly the same apart from the handler being female,  and the action follows pretty much the plot of the book.

The Night Manager is Jonathan Pine, and we learn a lot more about his background in the novel than comes out in the series. He is a loner, always has been, and led a very transient sort of life that had him in the army fighting in Northern Ireland, and now has him as the night manager for top notch hotels. While the manager of the Nefertiti Hotel in Cairo, he meets and falls in love with a woman, Sophie, who entrusts some papers to him. Her subsequent death lies heavily on his conscience and when he gets the opportunity some years later to avenge her death, and put away for good the evil Richard Oswald Roper, arms dealer operating as an industrialist specialising in agricultural equipment, he takes it. He is recruited by a spying/espionage arm of the British government, handled by Leonard Burr, who has been trying to get Roper for years. But as it emerges, Roper is fiercely protected by interests high up in the government, and so the spying takes interesting turns, the stakes are higher, and it is all a race against time. How long can Jonathan keep up the subterfuge? How will Burr and his circle manage to out trick their superiors? Will Jonathan get the girl?

Fantastic, awesome stuff. I have read a few Le Carre novels over the years, this is outstandingly the best. If you are liking the series, read the book. So worth it. 

SWEET CARESS by William Boyd

Ooooh yes, another great story from William Boyd, like putting on a comfy pair of slippers and sitting down with a cuppa, fully confident it won’t be time wasted. Any Human Heart was a marvellous story, the life of Logan Gonzago Mountstuart, born at the end of the 19th century, died nearly 100 years, and so has a life that touches so many historical moments of the 20th century. In Sweet Caress he does much the same thing with the life of a woman, also born at the end of the 19th century, dying nearly 100 years later. Amory Clay, so called by her father because he wanted a boy, leads a most unconventional life for a woman born at this time. Feisty, smart, independent, and not defined by anybody or anything, Amory becomes a photographer, allowing her to move freely in the worlds of both men and women at a time when roles were much more strictly defined, and so have a life, much like Mountstuart’s that records and documents many 20th century moments and events.

So Amory finds herself caught up in Berlin prior to WWII, caught up in London’s fascist riots, then on the front line with the allies during the war, living and working in New York, falling in and out of love, taking herself to Vietnam when she finds herself widowed, and still taking photos as an elderly woman. Through out the book there are photos, real photos, that illustrate so perfectly the fictional events taking place in Amory’s life. Apparently he had the bones of Amory’s  story, and set about scouring antique shops and estate sales for photos that would tie in with his story. It is wonderful and makes both the story and the photos far more meaningful.

I really liked Amory Clay, her attitude to life, driven both by her heart and head. She is a very real person, makes mistakes, has many regrets and many joys just like most women. Boyd captures the essence of a brave, strong and loving, nurturing woman who has the most marvellous life. A life well lived.