Blunt edge of creativity

12 March 2014 - 02:28 By Andrew Donaldson
Andrew Donaldson
Andrew Donaldson

If you read one book this week

The Beast in the Red Forest by Sam Eastland (Faber & Faber) R220

The fifth in Eastland's enthralling series featuring Inspector Pekkala, Stalin's favourite detective. Word reaches Moscow that Pekkala has been killed on the Western front, where fighting rages against the Nazi invaders.

The ensuing investigation into Pekkala's disappearance throws up something very grim indeed.

The Issue

Much ado about espionage with two new biographies of Kim Philby, the Cambridge spy. Since his flight to Moscow in 1963, the double agent has continued to fascinate historians and both A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre (Bloomsbury) and Kim Philby: The Unknown Story of the KGB's Master Spy by Tim Milne (Biteback) have a crack at decoding his motives. Despite insisting that there's not much left to say about Philby, critics have responded to both books with some enthusiasm.

Philby, as every fan of George Smiley will tell you, was the inspiration for John le Carré's great literary traitors, Magnus Pym and Bill Haydon. Indeed, those wishing to read a single book about Philby may as well try Le Carré'sTinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Le Carré partly based his spy chief Smiley on the real life exploits of the late John Bingham, his friend and former colleague at MI6.

However, those who knew him claim Bingham loathed the novelist's portrayal of the intelligence services. Michael Jago's 2013 biography, The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John Bingham (Biteback), is well worth a visit.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph last week, the novelist conceded that Bingham may have disliked his work, but added: "I equally detest the notion that our spies are uniformly immaculate, omniscient and beyond the vulgar criticism of those who not only pay for their existence, but on occasion are taken to war on the strength of concocted intelligence."

Crash Course

Novelist Hanif Kureishi (The Buddha of Suburbia) has created a bit of a stir by telling the Bath Literary Festival that creative writing courses are largely a "waste of time". He should know - he teaches creative writing. "A lot of my students just can't tell a story," he said. "They can write sentences but they don't know how to make a story go from there all the way through to the end without people dying of boredom in between. It's a difficult thing to do and it's a great skill to have. Can you teach that? I don't think you can."

Bottom Line

"I'm embarrassed to say it. Three years in the city, only one accomplishment: learning to surf. The best thing that's happened to me. The worst way to get ahead in New York." - The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir by Justin Hocking (Graywolf Press)