Terry Hayes wants you to know he’s written screenplays. He really wants you to know that Nicole Kidman was in one of them. And that he’s kind of a big deal. How do I know this? Well, not just from the eight pages of acknowledgements (thanking, get this, his Norwegian editor ‘the first of many international publishers’ to pick up his book) and the author biography, but from his self-satisfied, falsely-modest, made-for-the-movies protagonist. Our polyonymous protagonist who on every page reminds the reader of what an exceptional spy he is (but oh-no, he really didn’t want this kind of responsibility and power), how materially privileged he is (but no really, he was adopted so he understands alienation and he never really wanted to be a billionaire anyway) how patriotic and brave he is (but seriously, the firefighters on 9/11 were the *real* heroes), what a genius he is (no for real, he dropped out of Harvard medical school because it wasn’t meaningful enough) and how self-sacrificing he is (of course not, he’s just too dangerous for friends or permanence). Curiously absent is how handsome he must be, but I suppose we’re to take it for granted that [Daniel Craig] will star in the role and then we’ll all know just what a brilliant, rich, patriotic and brave spy looks like (I say the role because it’s incredibly clear from the cinematic descriptions and absolute attention to the plot – at the expense of all other elements of fiction – that this is a novel purposeful in its ambition for adaptation). And if you wanted further evidence of the arrogance, just look at the narration: first person narration from after the fact. So not only do we know the entire time that our protagonist will save us, but he’s omniscient throughout the telling, dropping mentions of his “catastrophic mistakes” and “poor judgement” even while we know he will save us. Oh and of course he’s simultaneously solving a murder investigation that the whole of Turkish intelligence can’t unravel because they’re so corrupt and preoccupied with prayer.
Oh it’s pretty gross, this one. Except – and here’s the trouble – I couldn’t put it down. Like up until past bedtime and reading while walking. And not in a watching-the-train wreck kind of way, but in a what-will-happen-next-and-will-he-save-America kind of way. Not only will-he-save-America, but will-he-stop-the-Muslim-terrorist. I read the overt racism and sexism, the pro-Israeli/pro-American rhetoric, the calls for greater state surveillance and state-sponsored torture and thought: wait, didn’t we already do this with 24? I guess we needed to do it again. In a novel. And I also watched all of 24. So what’s wrong with me that I can read this (offensive) nonsense and find it entertaining? I guess I’m half-asking to be pardoned for my enjoyment because I enjoyed it while also aware of how problematic it is (no seriously, congratulate me on my critical thinking). Kind of like watching the NFL.