Sunday, January 25, 2009

Retrospective Ventriloquism

As a reliable best seller, John le Carré gets unfairly dismissed by critics, it seems to me, who lump him with John Grisham. I personally think John Grisham deserves all the trashing he gets, but that le Carré is among the more careful and thoughtful of writers who do genre. Here is a set-piece, my exhibit A, from p. 203 of his new novel:

"Did she hear him? And if she did, why then was she smiling? Her voice was changing. It was younger. As she started speaking again, a brighter cadence entered it, a softer, fresher, more Viennese lilt, that put a forgiving gloss on even her severest observations. And to the younger voice, a younger figure: still prim, still respectfully upright, but more active and flirtatious in its gestures. Stranger still was the fact that her very style of speech seemed chosen to please the ear of someone superior to her in both age and station, whereas Bachmann was neither; and that, by an unconscious act of retrospective ventriloquism, she was evoking not merely the voice of her vanished youth, but the voice in which the relationship with the person she was describing had been conducted."