Monday, January 24, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: C is for The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré

Title: The Constant Gardener
Author: John Le Carré
ISBN: 978-0340733394
Coronet Books/2000
Pages: 508

Tessa is the wife of a minor British diplomat in Nairobi, and is an active crusader for human rights. When she is murdered, her husband Justin awakens himself from his careful apathy and, sorting out the threads that led to her death, sets off in her footsteps. His journey takes him around the world, to a village retreat in Italy, a non-government organisation in Germany, an ostracised scientist in Canada, a food distribution area in southern Sudan, and in the end back to Kenya and the scene of Tessa's death.

In The Constant Gardener, Le Carré offers a compelling account of a man on the run, chased by his "own" side (Intelligence and the Foreign Office) as well as by the bad guys (thugs working for a pharmaceutical company). He presents a characteristically unflattering portrait of the machinations of bureaucracy and bureaucrats. As well as following Justin, we get a glimpse inside the mind of his timeserving and lecherous colleague Sandy. He is an example of not overt evil — the thugs and the corporate executives who send them remain in the background — but of those who allow evil to happen by averting their eyes and by following orders rather than their conscience.

The novel revolves around drug, a diplomat, and a murder. Dypraxa is a new cure for tuberculosis, developed by a Swiss pharmaceutical company that is testing it unscrupulously, and at great human cost, among Kenyan villagers and slum-dwellers in preparation for its debut in the U.S. and other developed nations. Tessa Quayle, a diplomatic wife, attorney and idealist, discovers the corruption and malevolence at the heart of this scheme, only to get her throat cut in the bush north of Nairobi when she threatens to expose the sordid mess. The novel unfolds as Tessa's husband follows her path into the darker recesses of corporate greed, Foreign Office duplicity, and medical science in the service of profit.

Beneath the politics, we find the variance between individuals and their institutional identities that runs through more or less all of Le Carré's novels. Justin Quayle, diplomat and suddenly a widower, is the constant gardener referred to in Le Carré's title: He is complacent in his dedication to the ethos of the British Foreign Office. Justin chucks out his Etonian manners in order to pursue his late wife's cause, joining Le Carré’s renegades in revolt against their circumstances. The Constant Gardener is about the human capacity for transformation. Through Justin, the political themes are elevated to

The Constant Gardener is set in Kenya and traces the extraordinary events within a close-knit British community living in Nairobi, working for Her Majesty's Government and for aid agencies. One gets to see some of the city of Nairobi and its outlying countryside, as well as the machinations of the Kenyan government and media. The politics of the country alone and in relation to the UK, is very much part of the story too. However, the book's focus is its characters. The story unfolds through sharp, clear characterization and strong dialogues.


Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

The Constant Gardener sounds so good!

Anonymous said...

Gautami - John le Carré is one of the finest thriller authors there are. I'm so glad you featured one of his novels. Thanks for this.

Bernadette said...

Such a good book to choose - great story and characters. They made a fairly awful movie of this a few years ago which may have put some people off but I agree with you that the book is great.

Kerrie said...

Tahnks for this contribution to the CFA Gautami, and the reminder of how good this book is

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Oh, yes, this is one of the best books in the genre that I've read! (Though unlike Bernadette in Australia, I thought the movie stood well on its own, too) Actually, it was this book, read back to back with Philip Caputo's Acts of Faith that motivated me to volunteerism a few years ago. Both books had a lasting effect on me.

Bev Hankins said...

As a mystery lover, I realize that I should probably get around to reading some le Carré one of these days.....Just haven't made it yet.

Alyce said...

I've heard good things about le Carre's books but have yet to read one.

Dorte H said...

A fine review, but I don´t think this book is for me. I have sometimes taken an interest in politics in real life, but never in my crime fiction.