John le Carre’s 5th novel is 50 years old, but the world it describes is only yesterday, a modern world with the only discrepancies the make of cars, or whether everyone has a boilerman enter their home to start the morning. In their concerns and the way they live their lives, the folk described don’t seem much different from people today, except for the lack of references to smartphones, I suppose. And that sort of difference is equally true for novels written in 2005. The filing systems it turns on are not computerised, but then friends of mine who work in archives are still dealing with pre-digitalised material. Perhaps the UK is not as class-ridden, but I am sure there are still officers made to feel out of place because they wear the wrong shoes or have the wrong accent, as occurs in the novel. Not that I was reading any novels in 1968, but I suspect that if I was, I would have felt a greater difference with the characters and setting of novels written in 1918.
The novel describes a world where the UK is desperate to enter the European common market, seeking German support against French opposition. It is interesting to read that in a world of Brexit, but as a main character points out towards the end, it is not the detail of the cause célèbre that matters, but just that there is one.
Wait! Brussels … the Market … all this. Next week it’s gold, the week after it’s the Warsaw pact. We’d join the bloody Salvation Army if it pleased the Americans. What does it matter about the names?
And the rejoinder:
Crises are academic. Scandals are not.
There is always something, and the something will change. However, it is human beings and lives that are damaged along the way, the causes and the victims of scandal who are ultimately disposable. All of our running around, all of the work of days, that a year or a decade or half a century later are reversed, by people who are also running around and who can proclaim that they are doing the right thing. What does any of it matter in the end?
Every night, as I go to sleep, I say to myself: another day achieved. Another day added to the unnatural life of a world on its deathbed. And if I never relax, if I never lift my eye, we may run on for another hundred years.
Well, we are half-way there. 50 years on from the crises and scandals of 1968, a year famous for many things, many events. And not that I want to bring the end of the world one second closer, but personally, I need to relax!