Film, Books

I admire the fact he was still writing at 88, and he can certainly spin a good yarn after all those years. But, oh man, John LeCarré’s latest spy saga is filled with excruciating anachronisms that make the 21st century seem like a foreign country. 

I confess I had not read a le Carré since my youth, when I found those classics like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy dense, complicated and a bit dry – but fascinating and well-written.

This one, written in his late eighties and published a year before his death last year, is none of those things. And it really shows his age – something I did not see mentioned (much) in the mostly favourable reviews.

My friend Mel Griffiths made the accurate observation that, although it’s set in the present-day, it actually *feels* while you’re reading it as if it’s set in the Sixties.

Perhaps unwisely, it’s written in the first person, from the point of view of an English spy in his mid-forties, and set in London today – a place where tennis courts are made of “tarmacadam,” phones are always “telephones,” bikes are always “bicycles” and sunbathers in parks are only ever “young girls in summer dresses.”

Our narrator is obsessed with the “shiny white thighs” of a colleague in her twenties, referring at one stage to a minor disagreement as “our first lover’s tiff – and we never made love.” When sex does eventually rear its head (a term he thankfully avoids), it is referred to anachronistically as “bonking” – a word no one has surely used for at least two decades.

Post-Brexit London is also a world upon which popular culture has yet to intrude – the only reference to music, in the life of a man who would have been in his teens during the Rave era, is a Schubert lieder, though Sting gets a mention.

At one point he remarks of another character in his twenties: “The biggest gift you can give the young is time.” Which is an odd observation from a 46-year-old; especially one who regularly uses the Footballer’s Pronoun, as in: “Prue and myself went for a walk.”

The anachronisms kick in early: the book begins with our hero receiving a coded message from his local Post Office – echoes of Agatha Christie there – while his fellow spies smuggle “microfilm” to one another. I’m not a spy but I imagine they use the Dark Web these days.

And there’s a huge mistake with a reference to the Socialist Workers Party, which did not exist in the Sixties when they were known as the International Socialists: they did not become the SWP until the Seventies. 

And one of the MI5 types actually refers to our European neighbours as “The Huns and The Frogs.” Really?!

It’s just a teeny bit creepy and sad, and our poor spy doesn’t even seem to be able to google salient facts about suspicious characters he’s investigating (“He went to a grammar school – I forget the name”) or even the film he went to last night with his wife (“I forget the name of the film”).

It’s a miracle the Circus still lets him spy.

Spencer – film review

A chilling psychodrama about coercive control, Spencer works equally well as a Hitchcockian ‘woman in peril’ horror and as a true-life insight into the dynasty that has ruled Britain for more than a century.

Perfect Days – Film Review

German director Wim Wenders’ almost wordless drama about a Tokyo toilet cleaner is one of the year’s great surprises – a joyfully uplifting film about the small pleasures in life.

Poor Things (2023)
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef, Hanna Schygulla
Writer: Tony McNamara (based on Alasdair Gray’s novel)
Running Time: 2h 21mins
UK Release: 12th January 2024

Poor Things is a filthy feminist comedy from Greek film-maker Yorgos Lanthimos, a hilarious twist on the Frankenstein story with Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe.


Books – Best Of 2023

29th December 2023 · 2020s, 2023, Film, Books

Obviously these are just the ones I have read, and I am a slow reader. But I enjoy a good novel, with good characters, and I try to alternate my novel-reading with the occasional non-fiction book.

Looking at the list, it’s only now I notice that while the first (The Bee Sting) is very much an Irish book about an Irish family, the next five all have themes of race.


I’m notoriously bad at remembering TV shows and when they came out but here’s a selection of ones I’m pretty sure I enjoyed during the past year.


Cinema – Best Of 2023

20th December 2023 · 2020s, 2023, Film, Books

Lots of good films this year, and a massive revival in cinema receipts thanks largely to an old-fashioned head-to-head with Barbenheimer over the summer. And I’ve just noticed that five of my top ten have female directors, which must mean #MeToo has had some sort of impact in cinema.


The Royal Hotel – Film Review

The Royal Hotel is a slow-building mystery thriller about two female backpackers who find themselves at the mercy of Aussie men at their worst after taking a holiday job behind the bar of an Outback watering hole, in Australian film-maker Kitty “The Assistant” Green’s second feature-length assault on toxic masculinity.

Killers Of The Flower Moon

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lily Gladstone

Screenplay: Eric Roth, Martin Scorsese.

Running time: 206 minutes.

I confess I had some apprehension over its length, but Killers Of The Flower Moon is well worth the numb bum. And we can surely expect Oscar nominations for the three principals – De Niro, DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone – as well as Scorsese himself.


AngelHeaded Hipster: The Songs Of Marc Bolan & T.Rex – Film Review