It’s been more than two weeks since my last post. I’ve been rather behind on my reading schedule with other distractions occupying most of my time. What galvanized me to finally finish a post was a site I stumbled upon. To my surprise and delight, a new site, Philippine Blog Reviews, posted a wonderful review on JO’s Bookshelf! A big thank you to the site’s author/s. So, I’m guiltily posting this review and hoping to stay on track this month.
Author : John Le Carre
Date of First Publication : December 12, 2000
Publisher of 1st Edition (Hardcover): Scribner
This Edition’s Publication Date (Paperback, Reprint Edition) : November 2001
This Edition’s Publisher : Pocket Books Fiction
No. of pages : 576
A wife of a British diplomat in Kenya is found naked, raped and brutally murdered; her driver, decapitated. Their companion, an African doctor, has gone missing. Investigations by the British High Office, however, fail to satisfy the bereaved husband, Justin Quayle, so he undertakes his own by secreting away Tessa Quayle’s laptop and documents.
Justin discovers that his philanthropic wife, a Good Samaritan to the Africans she loved, had compiled a huge body of evidence against crime of such vile proportions involving developmental medicines, clinical trials, both British and African governments, and large pharmaceutical companies. Justin follows her trail only to find himself in the same danger, hunted by Tessa’s killers and by his own government, both determined to keep their secrets.
The Review :
I do like novels that take up a moral stance on real issues. The Constant Gardener has the temerity to be a bullhorn, waking us to the existence of genuine medical crimes happening in Third World countries, mostly impoverished , vulnerable nations like Africa. Le Carre seems to be sounding a furious call to all about awareness of apalling drug trials by large, pharmaceutical companies, bribed scientific opinions, cover ups on side effects, and the whole sick trade of getting a new, profitable drug to the First World markets.
It seems Le Carre loves layers and likes to employ this on his characters and plot, wrapping them up in a tight onion of surface details, then peeling their layers to reveal more as he goes along.
The novel opens with a shocking tragedy which somehow does not focus immediately on the lead character. The author sets our attention on a supporting one and he slowly unveils his lead after shifting focus on him well after about a humdred and thirty pages or so. What this technique does is leave us wondering at the start about the husband’s rather bland reception of his wife’s murder. As attention increasingly shifts toward the main character, the author slowly peels back layer after layer of his personality so that by the end of the book, Justin is fully fleshed out in a very refined and gradual manner. And thus you witness a master of characterization at work.
Take his secondary characters as well. From a seemingly set cast, Le Carre takes us gradually behind their personas to reveal a complex set of people that give the novel an added richness and prove the author’s craft at character building.
To Read Or Not To Read :
His writing is elegant and vivid but one cannot say that he writes simply. Nor is this novel a fast, easy read as most thrillers go. So as much as the story is well conceived, his writing may be a tad labyrinthine. Just a tad, but still enough to make it difficult for some readers to get into the story. It may be a chore keeping up with who’s who as some characters mentioned early on are referred to again much later that the reader would have quite forgotten him.
I also rather wish that Le Carre immersed his readers more in African life. He skims over details giving us only tiny glimpses. It would have made the book far more interesting if he delved on the subject a little more, not to mention the greater impact it would have had if it were able to sear his message into his reader’s minds and get them to really sympathize with the African plight.
The reading pace could be best described as erratic, at times picking up a swift tempo then slowing down to a somnambulant gait only to pick up the brisk tread again after a while. In other words, this is not really a page-turner that would keep one up late into the night; but, it is still a great novel that delivers a powerful urgent message and takes a very strong moral stance.
As An Aside:
If you don’t already know, this book was adapted to cinema in 2005. Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz play Justin and Tessa Quayle, respectively. I haven’t seen the movie but after this book, I’d like to see how it played out on the big screen.
In A Nutshell:
In spite of the tendency of the author’s writing style to be a bit complex, The Constant Gardener is a well-written book that rewards constant readers, those who invest a little more concentration in reading this, with well developed characters, insight into global malpractices of the medical world (if one isn’t very aware of this yet), and of course, a darn good story.
My Mark : Very Good