The Night Manager by John Le Carré

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Watching the first episode the gleaming new BBC series starring Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman, I was very quickly overcome by the urge to read the book

Spoilers for book and up to episode three of the series under the readmore

I don’t get on with Le Carré. When the film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy came out in 2011, I tried to read the book (I hadn’t seen the film and still haven’t; film doesn’t really work for me, TV sometimes does, though) and I struggled through the first few chapters like a walrus struggling through quicksand. It just doesn’t work for me. TV Tropes describes Le Carré as “stale beer” flavour spy fiction and for me, it’s not just stale beer. It’s brown and beige and middle-aged men smoking in the pub in the 1970s.

But I got on ok with The Night Manager. It helps that the first few chapters stick more or less to the same general direction as the first episode of the series, with plenty of the dialogue lifted verbatim, which definitely continues through at least the first three episodes, which is all I’ve seen so far. The first episode happens chronologically, whereas the Egypt scenes come as a series of flashbacks in the book, and the Swiss hotel has been moved from Zurich to Zermatt and Leonard Burr has become his wife, Angela Burr, but otherwise, it’s much closer than most adaptations.

The changes start in the second episode – it’s moved from the Bahamas to the Mediterranean, Jonathan’s fictitious hardman background has changed dramatically, Jed’s hair has changed colour, the Roper has lost at least one henchman although the Langbournes have gained somewhat in prominence and a lot of the spies back in London have vanished.

That’s a good thing. The series is very much keeping the focus on Pine and Roper and their antics under the blazing sun and blue sky whereas at least 70% of the book seems to be endless meetings between largely deskbound spies. I find it really hard to keep track of the faces and agendas of grey-faced men in suits whose jobs are mostly to be anonymous. Rex Goodhew, Rob Rooke, “my master”, Geoffrey Darker, Strelski, Amato, Pat Flynn, Harry Palfrey, Padstow, Darling Katie, Sir Anthony Joyston Bradshaw… tedious scenes, which have been mercifully chopped out of the series.

I’m not going to sit here and list the changes. As far as I’m concerned, all the changes made have been for the better, apart from the scene with Apo’s daughter at the beginning of episode three, which did happen in the book but merited no more than three lines.

No, this is about the book. I read it on my Kindle and I saw that it began to ramp up at about 80% of the way through. That’s when I began to get excited, began to think that here came a big spectacular climax, that this was going to be explosive and dramatic and what’s going to happen…. and then nothing. It just kind of trailed off. I sat there staring at 100% and wondering where the rest of the story was. Oh, there was a happy-ever-after ending but one that had been plonked there after the rest of the story had been abruptly severed. What happened to this character, or that one? How did this happen? How did that happen? Why did you think that was an acceptable way to end it? I put up with a lot of Whitehall tediousness in the hope of Pine-clan/Roper-clan dramatics, with one or the other triumphing and the other being beaten and… I didn’t really get it. And Sir Anthony, a character who plays a major part in this cop-out of an ending, doesn’t exist at all in the series so here’s hoping they put a proper, satisfying ending on it. I don’t think I even care who triumphs as long as it’s more exciting and interesting than the end of the book.

This is me, declaring that the TV adaptation is better than the book. It does happen sometimes.

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