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The Constant Gardener: A Novel Hardcover – December 12, 2000

3.7 out of 5 stars 284 customer reviews

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The Underground Railroad
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

British diplomat Justin Quayle, complacent raiser of freesias and doting husband of the stunning, much younger Tessa, has tended his own garden in Nairobi too long. Tessa is Justin's opposite, a fiery reformer, "that rarest thing, a lawyer who believes in justice," whose campaigns have earned her a nickname: "the Princess Diana of the African poor." But now Tessa has turned up naked, raped, and dead on a mysterious visit to remote Lake Turkana in Kenya. Her traveling companion (and lover?), the handsome Congolese-Belgian doctor Arnold Bluhm, has vanished. So has Quayle's complacency.

Tessa had been compiling data against a multinational drug company that uses helpless Africans as guinea pigs to test a tuberculosis remedy with unfortunately fatal side effects. Her report was destroyed by her husband's superiors; was she? It's all somehow connected to the sinister British firm House of ThreeBees, whose ad boasts that it's "buzzy for the health of Africa!" John le Carré symbolically associates ThreeBees with an ominous buzz in the Nairobi morgue: "Over [the corpses], in a swaying, muddy mist, hung the flies, snoring on a single note."

The home office tries to take Quayle in out of the cold. He cleverly eludes their clammy embrace, turns spy, and takes off on a global chase to avenge Tessa and solve her murder. Le Carré has lost none of his gift for setting vivid scenes in far-flung places expertly described: London, Germany, Saskatchewan, Kenya. His sprinting thriller prose remains in great shape. And thanks to his 16 years in the British Foreign Office, his merciless send-up of its cutthroat intrigues and petty self-delusions is unbelievably good--or rather, believably so. This is global do-gooder satire on a literary par with Doris Lessing's The Summer Before the Dark.

But you want to know if The Constant Gardener is as good as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Very nearly. Africa's nightmare is more complex than the cold war chess match, and the world pharmaceutical circus is tougher to dramatize than the old spy-versus-spy-versus-spymaster game. Still, le Carré can write a smart, melancholy page-turner, and his moral outrage (the real subject of his books) burns as brightly as ever. --Tim Appelo

From Publishers Weekly

As the world seems to move ever further beyond the comparatively clear-cut choices of the Cold War into a moral morass in which greed and cynicism seem the prime movers, le Carr 's work has become increasingly radical, and this is by far his most passionately angry novel yet. Its premise is similar to that of Michael Palmer's Miracle CureDcynical pharmaceutical firm allied with devious doctors attempts to foist on the world a flawed but potentially hugely profitable drugDbut the difference is in the setting and the treatment. Le Carr has placed the prime action in Africa, where the drug is being surreptitiously tested on poor villagers. Tessa Quayle, married to a member of the British High Commission staff in corruption-riddled contemporary Kenya, gets wind of it and tries in vain to blow the whistle on the manufacturer and its smarmy African distributor. She is killed for her pains. At this point Justin Quayle, her older, gentlemanly husband, sets out to find out who killed her, and to stop the dangerous drug himselfDat a terrible cost. Le Carr 's manifold skills at scene-setting and creating a range of fearsomely convincing English characters, from the bluffly absurd to the irredeemably corrupt, are at their smooth peak here. Both The Tailor of Panama and Single & Single were feeling their way toward this wholehearted assault on the way the world works, by a man who knows much better than most novelists writing today how it works. Now subject and style are one, and the result is heart-wrenching. (Jan. 9) Forecast: Admirers of the author who may have found some of the moral ambiguities and overelaborate set pieces of his last two books less than top-drawer le Carr will welcome a return to his best form. There is a wonderfully charismatic and idealistic heroine, which will bolster female readership, and the appearance of the book shortly after the release of a movie of Tailor (starring Jamie Lee Curtis) is bound to create an extra rush of media attention. Be prepared for the biggest le Carr sales in years.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The latest book club pick from Oprah
"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead is a magnificent novel chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (December 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743215052
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743215053
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (284 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Having been a long time reader of John Le Carre's often bitter ironic take on the life of Britain's intelligence community, I looked forward to reading The Constant Gardener, as it promised to be a departure from his usual cloak and dagger novels. It exceeded my expectations in ways I did not anticipate.

The Constant Gardener at its heart is a love story. Justin Quayle, a minor British diplomat, is stationed in Africa, rumored to be his last posting. He has met and married a younger woman, Tessa, the subject of much gleeful and often malicious speculation amongst the diplomatic community.

The story opens with the horrific news that bodies have been found by Lake Turkana and are believed to be those of Tessa and her driver. The other occupant, a much beloved man by the name of Dr. Arnold Bluhm, an African civil rights activist, long rumored to be Tessa''s lover, is missing.

As the tale unfolds, myriad people who knew Tessa, some loving her, others despising her youth and high ideals, struggle to cope with her loss, and their own hidden fears. Many hold Justin Quayle in semi-contempt as an overfond and doting fool, more involved in his plants, than keeping a rein on his young headstrong wife.

The writing is taut and exquisite, as carefully, Le Carre exposes the reality behind the masks worn by so many of the people around Tessa. Tessa herself, using both recollection and the reflections of Justin Quayle, begins to emerge as something much greater than anyone ever gave her credit for being.

Justin, trying to deal with the huge emotional wound his wife's death opened, begins on his own, to investigate just what Tessa had gotten herself involved in. He finds finally, something more precious, more valuable than he could ever imagine.
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Format: Hardcover
Too often a commercially successful novelist -- especially one identified with a particular genre -- falls into the easy routine of writing in essence the same book over and over again or, at best, cutting corners to quickly finsh off yet another manuscript to be shipped off to the printer in time for the annual publication date. But that is not John le Carre. His work almost always shows a progression in his exploration of theme and technique. Certainly there are echoes of his most recent works from "Our Game" through "Single & Single", but in "The Constant Gardener" we are drawn even more deeply into an identification with the central character during his lonely odyssey. I cannot imagine how anyone could read this novel without being strongly emotionally affected.
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By A Customer on December 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In Kenya, someone rapes and murders activist Tessa Quayle, wife of a mid level British diplomat while the victim's traveling companion Dr. Arnold Bluhm has vanished. Tessa and Arnold protested the inhumane practices of the global pharmaceutical companies. They bitterly complained about the use of locals to test new products and the selling of expired medicines that would be flushed down the toilet in the West.
The police blame the missing Arnold for the crime as evidence surfaced that they were lovers. Tessa's sedate, older spouse Justin wonders if something more sinister led to his wife's death. Even as his superiors want to place a lid on a major scandal, Justin begins to make inquiries starting with the time Tessa spent as a patient in an African hospital where he believes she discovered something top secret. He also believes that someone felt she deserved to die to keep all hidden skeletons buried so the public doesn't know.
Many recent novels have anointed the giant drug companies as the replacement to the Soviet Union as the enemy of the common person. With THE CONSTANT GARDENER, espionage thriller guru John Le Carre comes out of the cold and joins the ranks of writers starring a serene David battling against the pharmaceutical-government complex who will kill for profit. The story line is fast-paced and no one does locality scenes better than Mr. Le Carre does as he shows with his vivid tour of Kenya's Lake Turkana region. Fans of his great tales will welcome the author's switch, as this is one of his better entries in recent years and is one of the sub-genre's superior crafted tales.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Paperback
Corporate greed and corporate murder are not exactly new, nor are they particularly fun for many people to read. It's a profound shame that the sting is gone from them for some of us. A book which allows you to FEEL that sting would be a valuable work of art.

But wait, this is not particularly about the corporate scene. That's background, but there's a stronger thread which is about love and about a search for truth. Most of this on the parched plains of Africa. With frequent side-trips to the claustrophobic dance of diplomacy.

Le Carre seems to have built his reputation on spy novels. Spycraft is present here. You see the watchers, the searchers, and the strategists. You see the weaknesses of the (fictional) bureaucratic hierarchy (in the view of the characters). You see the idealism-vs.-life tensions played out. But that's only for starters.

In some reviews there seems to be scant appreciation of the author's character development, which is outstanding here. Similarly outstanding is the skill for nuance in dialogue. In this book you move from Sandy's world to Justin's world, with bumps along the way, and the shift is profound.

You also get a tour of British idiom as a device in character building, and I found that to be delightful.

You also get a picture of corporate greed practiced by way of third-world imperialism. As consciousness-raising, this is more profound than Edward Abbey and as entertaining as Palaniuk, more entertaining than Ballard.

If you've ever felt the pang of idealism, and especially if you've felt it and lost it, then this book is a compelling, worthwhile experience.
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