The Tailor of Panama
|Author||John le Carré|
|Publisher||Hodder & Stoughton (UK); Alfred A. Knopf (US)|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||Our Game|
|Followed by||Single & Single|
Harry Pendel is a British expatriate living in Panama City and running his own successful bespoke tailoring business Pendel and Braithwaite. His wife and children are unaware that almost every detail of his life is fabricated, including his former partner, Mr Braithwaite. In reality, Harry Pendel is an ex-convict who learnt tailoring in prison.
Andy Osnard is a young British MI6 agent sent to Panama to recruit agents to gather intelligence and protect British trade interests through the canal. However, Andy has his own agenda and, after he discovers Harry's past, sees the perfect opportunity to recruit a new agent and extort money from the British government. Concocting a fictitious network of revolutionaries, known as the silent opposition, Harry, through Andy, manages to gain the intrigue of the British secret services and U.K and even U.S. governments. However, Harry has used his own friends as the basis for his fantasies and as the plots are taken more seriously they become known to the Panamanian authorities and Harry struggles to cope with the guilt of setting them up. Harry's wife, Louisa, becomes suspicious of the amount of time he spends with Andy and suspects that Harry is having an affair. She breaks into his office and discovers all his fantastic lies. Harry's friend, Mickie, kills himself rather than face the risk of going back to jail and Harry helps dispose of the body, making it look like he was executed. As Mickie is the supposed leader of the silent opposition, the U.K. and U.S. governments use this as an excuse to topple the current Panamanian government. At the end of the book the U.S. military has begun another invasion of Panama, based largely on Harry's fabrications and Harry watches the destruction from the window of his house.
To research the novel le Carre visited Panama on five occasions. The book was in part inspired by Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. Le Carré likens the tale to a "Casablanca without heroes", stating that he, "was drawn by the obvious corruption of Panama and the wonderful collection of characters you meet there."
In response to observations that the novel was a more light-hearted affair than his previous books, Le Carré replied that, "I think I'm in the same mood as ever, but in some ways more mature. I guess you could say that, at sixty-five, when you've seen the world shape up as I have, there are only two things you can do: laugh or kill yourself. I think my character does both. In some ways it's a very personal book. I was exploring the relationship between myself and my own fabricator. Anybody in the creative business, as you might call it, has some sense of guilt about fooling around with fact, that you're committing larceny, that all of life is material for your fabulations. That was certainly Harry Pendel's position. So I found some kind of buzz running between me and the main character, which I had not really felt since A Perfect Spy."
Upon publication, The Tailor of Panama received generally glowing reviews.
A long-running literary feud between Le Carre and Salman Rushdie began in 1997 after Le Carre penned a letter to the Guardian, complaining that politically correct forces in the U.S. had labelled him anti-Semitic for his portrayal of one of the novel's characters. Rushdie responded that he wished Le Carre had expressed similar feelings after Rushdie was subject to a fatwa for The Satanic Verses, viewed as anti-Islamic by some Muslims.
Guardian columnist Mark Lawson claimed the two authors appeared to be 'settling old scores', stating that: "The Collected Guardian Correspondence of Salman Rushdie and John Le Carre is in the great tradition of literary poison pen letters: both in their inventive viciousness and in the low personal revenges which may lie behind the high rhetoric."
Rushdie and Le Carre appeared to end their dispute in late 2012.
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