quinta-feira, abril 16, 2015

They Do Things Differently There: "All the Old Knives" by Olen Steinhauer


Review:
All the Old Knives - Olen Steinhauer

Published March 10th 2015.

(A taste of my Le Carré and Deighton personal libraries)

“One part of my history is gone. That gaggle of friends has disappeared. This collection of embarrassing memories can no longer be discovered by someone going through my stuff. [ ] It was always about the future. What’s that they say about the past?” That it’s another country?”

As a reader I would say, of course, people are essentially the same, doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the past, the present of the future. But is that really true? I think they did things differently, they just weren't different. Hartley's point in his novel “The Go-Between” was that the response to an affair between a wealthy woman and working man was different, but the feelings were the same, which is why they had the affair in the first place. Along the way, in the honoured spy fiction tradition this quote came to have a quintessential meaning.

When I was very young, 14, 15, I used to troll the old bookshops in my city, Lisbon, looking for something to read in English, not an easy task at the time. It was in one of those excursions I discovered this huge trove of old Reader's Digest condensed editions in one of those bookshops (I forget the name, but it was located in Chiado, one of the most colourful boroughs in Lisbon). By the look and smell of them, they had been there a long time, and I took them home hungrily, opening them up to smell that deep scent only untouched old books have, the smell of knowledge, wisdom, and of course, adventure. I still have a few of them in my bookshelf, carefully preserved. What did I get? Absolute pearls: Le Carré, Len Deighton, Ian Fleming, Graham Green, John Buchan, etc. I got hooked on Spy Fiction at the age of 15 years old. What can Spy Fiction give me that no other form of Literature can? There’s the romance of the times when ideas and ideologies used to mean something, when people fought for things they believed in, tricking each other and themselves in the process.

 “I talk in riddles because that’s what I deal with every day”, states Henry Pelham somewhere in the novel. Quite right. They do things differently because the onion is huge. That’s one of the main reasons why I kept thinking about “Beim häuten der Zwiebel” by Günther Grass while reading Steinhauser’s novel); we need to peel the onions to get to the bottom of things, or at least attempt to rediscover and interrogate our earlier selves. Grass, being the ultimate master on reflections on recollection and memory (e.g. “Die Blechtrommel”), expressed these feelings beautifully: “Die Erinnerung liebt das Versteckspiel der Kinder. Sie verkriecht sich. Zum Schönreden neigt sie und aschmückt gerne, oft ohne Not. Sie wiederspricht dem Gedächtnis, das sich pedantisch gibt und zänkisch rechthaben will.” (My own rough translation: Memory likes to play hide-and-seek, to crawl away. It tends to hold forth, to dress up, often needlessly. Memory contradicts itself; pedant that it is, it will have its way).

In the end, Steinhauer’s novel (what a wonderful name for a writer of Spy Fiction), succeeds in what it wants to do because of the fact that it is an incredibly human story. Memory, intelligence, deception, love, hate, belief, faith - all these are powerful human feelings & emotions. Steinhauer was able to write something that makes us confront our own emotions with a nakedness that would be almost brutal if not so beautifully done.

Le Carré is still the master, but this novel proves there’s hope for the modern Spy Fiction milieu. In today’s landscape, Charles Cumming and Steinhauer are the front-runners.

Original post: antao.booklikes.com/post/1146908/they-do-things-differently-there-all-the-old-knives-by-olen-steinhauer

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