Where did all the Russians go?

The review that I wrote yesterday reminded me about another book that I recently finished, The Mission Song, by John LeCarré. By chance, I finished the book a couple of days after watching the perplexingly mediocre new Bond installment, Quantum of Solace.
I was really intrigued by the new directions that these two franchises have taken with this new century. Le Carré was the prototypical Cold War spy novelist. James Bond was the over-the-top secret agent obsessed with his nemesis, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. And yet the Cold War is over. Teenagers today were barely alive during the fall of the Wall, and it will be many years yet before people will begin to read Cold War novels as historical fiction. Where then do writers go when they have built their entire careers on books that are factually and fashionably out of favor?

Apparently, they look to the next bogeyman, international terrorism. LeCarré’s latest two novels, The Constant Gardener and The Mission Song have focused on the destructive way that British (and Western) involvement in Africa has created more problems than it has solved. Both of the new Bond movies have featured the Western money men that finance international terrorism. It is an impressive way to bounce back into the new century, and not everybody has managed it so gracefully. Consider the pre-reboot James Bond movies floundering without compelling villains, or the latest Tom Clancy novels, wistfully reliving the Cold War.
…it’s not that simple. You cannot run away from the fact that the Cold War actors that were the protagonists of the pre-millennial Bond and LeCarré novels created the problems that their modern incarnations fight against. It is that very Cold War attitude, that there are only two powers in the world, that we (whatever that might mean) have the right to monkey with the government of any other country in the interests of the greater fight: this attitude created the instability in regions such as Central Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America that has lead to international terrorism being a valid tool for radical ideologues.
I wonder if there is a certain element of redemption in LeCarré’s books. He can now rail against a monster that he spent his career profiting off of.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *