28 March 2007

Book Review: The Naive and Sentimental Lover by John le Carré

2007 TBR Challenge #3

The Naive and Sentimental Lover Meet Aldo Cassidy: verging on middle age, with a wife, two kids, a renovation in progress, and a company that manufactures prams and the fastenings that hold them together. His only apparent peccadillo is fibbing to his wife about his whereabouts while he goes jaunting around the countryside. But Cassidy’s ordinary life is about to get a bit of a shake-up. Visiting Haverdown Manor, he meets Shamus and Helen. His entanglement with the impecunious writer and his wife will alter the course of his life.

At times this book could be reasonably entertaining, but at others it was confusing enough to make your head spin. The writing style puts the reader right inside Cassidy’s often hyperactive mind; there are times when it is impossible to tell whether events are real, imagined, or remembered, and others when you think you know and then get proven wrong. The effect could be quite disorienting (and incidentally, is why I didn’t like le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl. Must have been a phase he went through). Also puzzling was why Cassidy put up with Shamus, apart from the fact that the latter was a good antidote to the dull routine of Cassidy’s life - and would probably have been difficult to dislodge. At best he was eccentric, but he frequently descended through erratic to distinctly unbalanced; I several times questioned his sanity. I had no sympathy for him as a character, but I don’t think I was supposed to.

On the bright side, the characters were well-drawn enough that even minor players like Cassidy’s sister-in-law and various employees could be clearly pictured. And there were several memorable scenes, such as the wealthy child dining alone in an upscale Paris restaurant. But though quite readable when the reality of events was assured, the story never really grabbed me.

Rating: C

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776