The Constant Gardener by John le Carré


About The Constant Gardener by John le Carré: Frightening, heartbreaking, and exquisitely calibrated, John le Carre's new novel opens with the gruesome murder of the young and beautiful Tessa Quayle near northern Kenya's Lake Turkana, the birthplace of mankind. Her putative African lover and traveling companion, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has vanished from the scene of the crime. Tessa's much older husband, Justin, a career diplomat at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive. A master chronicler of the deceptions and betrayals of ordinary people caught in political conflict, le Carre portrays, in "The Constant Gardener," the dark side of unbridled capitalism. His eighteenth novel is also the profoundly moving story of a man whom tragedy elevates. Justin Quayle, amateur gardener and ineffectual bureaucrat, seemingly oblivious to his wife's cause, discovers his own resources and the extraordinary courage of the woman he barely had time to love. "The Constant Gardener" is a magnificent exploration of the new world order by one of the most compelling and elegant storytellers of our time.

My thoughts

The book in one sentence: British diplomat Justin Quayle, seeks to uncover the truth behind his activist wife's murder in Nigeria -- revealing an international conspiracy of a corrupt government and pharmaceutical company.

Halfway through, I was getting bored because of the overly detailed descriptions of the inner workings of the international aid community. But this is my first John le Carré book and I really wanted to like it. I really did. I tried. Unfortunately, the story never really took off for me, and I was "What?! That was it?!"

Maybe I've gotten through my phase of medical conspiracies (I went through I don't know how many books of Robin Cook - I'd guess too many!). Maybe I've become overly cynical of conspiracies in general. Maybe all these Michael Douglas movies have dulled my senses. And maybe I'm just too close to the subject matter (having worked within the aid community). Or maybe it's just too real to be enjoyable.

Doing a bit of research, I found out that the plot was based on a real-life case wherein unscrupulous drug testing was being done in Kano, Nigeria. For some reason, while I find this highly disturbing in the real world, the book painted rather boring and stereotypical characters for me. Justin, the staid diplomat, the constant gardener (yes he likes gardening) suddenly turns rogue? Errr, where did he pull that out from? Tessa, the activist wife, who was killed for her wanting to expose the drug testing being committed on unsuspecting, and often desperate locals. Loved by all, how was it that she was able to keep out of trouble all those years being a diplomat's wife?

Call me stupid. I know John le Carré is a much-loved author. And I know he's good at what he does. I finished this, but disliked it. I may just need to read it again in that "proper state of mind" to appreciate it. 

Verdict: A little too polished a medical conspiracy, that while based on truth, was as predictable as can be.

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