callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

Weekend Reading: Rock Stars, Spies and Detectives

Girls! Whatever you do, don’t marry a rock star. Even better, don’t marry two. Pattie Boyd,

Getty Images Pattie Boyd in 1964

as recounted in Wonderful Today by Pattie Boyd with Penny Junor, spent first her childhood and then two marriages with controlling people who she felt didn’t love her enough and eventually abandoned her. Naturally what everyone wants to know is, what was it like being married to George Harrison? Great at first, then not so good when he started spending most of his time in his recording studio or chanting for hours on end, is the answer. Poor little lonely rich girl in her great big house! Then Eric Clapton became obsessed with her and she eventually left George for him, a decision she later questioned.

For a person who inspired Something, Layla and Wonderful Tonight, Pattie doesn’t seem very interested in music. She says herself that when she first met the Beatles (on the set of A Hard Day’s Night) she’d never listened to their records. WAGs were not allowed to tour with the Beatles but later she’d stand in the wings at Clapton’s concerts, feeling proud. When she wasn’t worrying about whether he’d be able to stand up, that is. Honestly, it’s a miracle (and jolly unfair) that the self-destructive genius is still alive. I suppose people react differently to wealth and fame and in Eric’s case it seems to have divorced him completely from reality. When Pattie left him and found herself alone for the first time in years, she claims not to have known that she had to buy a television licence, or how to tax her car. Well, duh. Then she felt poor (not too poor to buy a beach in Sri Lanka or travel all over the world when she fancied) and useless, until she turned herself back into being Pattie Boyd rather than Mrs Harrison or Mrs Clapton.

A strange book. The ‘London in the sixties’ pages could have been cut and pasted from any other book about the era. Considering the life she led, it could have been a lot more interesting. The story awaits another writer, preferably one who really appreciates the music.

John le Carré came to fame with The Spy who Came in from the Cold (1963), made into a moody film starring Richard Burton. Then came Smiley, immortalized by Alec Guinness in the 1979 television series (golly, that long ago?) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Just this year, Radio 4 presented The Complete Smiley with the excellent Simon Russell Beale. It’s from le Carré that most of us have learned about Control, handlers and Moscow rules. His books are the benchmark for modern spy fiction; his spies (or the ‘epiocracy’ as he terms them in this book) with their bluff and counter-bluff, betrayal and treason, are what we now expect spies to be. No le Carré, no Spooks. He made the grey areas of spying as much his world as 'Greeneland' is Graham Greene’s.

The question you have to ask, reading his own recent fiction, has to be whether it still works. The Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War is allegedly over and it’s a long time since le Carré himself was in the service. Then there was 9/11.

A Most Wanted Man is set in Hamburg. The eponymous character is Issa, an illegal immigrant said to be a Chechen Muslim, who has come to claim a fortune of dubious origins. He is helped by Annabel, a young, attractive pro bono lawyer who specializes in immigration issues. The question is, what he will do with the money once it has been released by the old, British, private bank of Brue Frères. There are complications such as Thomas Brue, sixty, falling for Annabel but the crux of the story is that half the world’s back-stabbing intelligence services are interested in the semi-crazed, tortured (literally) Issa. I found the book rather slow and Issa infuriating. The ending was anything but slow and horribly believable. It’s enough to make you send a donation to Amnesty.

Then I read Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor by M C Beaton. The Agatha Raisin books are ridiculous but nevertheless attractive. The speed of the action, with something new on every page, leaves you breathless. Ideal quick, light reading. Unlike many people, I prefer these to the Hamish MacBeth series.

Tags: crime fiction, john le carre, pattie boyd, spy fiction, the sixties
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