The Naive and Sentimental Loverby John le Carré
"I have visited bohemia and got away unscathed."
Aldo Cassidy is/i>/b>/i>/i>/i>
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From the New York Times bestselling author of A Delicate Truth and Our Kind of Traitor which is soon to be a major motion picture starring Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Damian Lewis.
"I have visited bohemia and got away unscathed."
Aldo Cassidy is an entrepreneurial genius. At thirty-nine, he dominates the baby pram market and rewards his success with a custom Bentley. But Aldo’s bourgeois life is upended by a chance encounter with Shamus—a charismatic writer whose first and only novel blazoned across the firmament twenty years earlier. The two develop a passionate friendship that draws Aldo—smitten also with his new friend’s luscious wife—into a life of reckless hedonism that threatens to consume them all.
John le Carré’s The Naïve and Sentimental Lover offers a dark and ribald send-up of both middle-class bohemian pretensions that will astonish and delight his many fans.
With a foreword by the author.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
“Comic and touching…this novel is brilliant and marvelously good reading.”—Book World
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Chapter One Cassidy drove contentedly through the evening sunlight, his face as close to the windshield as the safety belt allowed, his foot alternating diffidently between accelerator and brake as he scanned the narrow lane for unseen hazards. Beside him on the passenger seat, carefully folded into a plastic envelope, lay an Ordnance Survey map of central Somerset. An oilbound compass of the newest type was fastened by suction to the walnut dashboard. At a corner of the windshield, accurately adjusted to his field of view, a copy of the Estate Agent's particulars issued under the distinguished title of Messrs. Grimble and Outhwaite of Mount Street W. was clipped to an aluminum stand of his own invention. For the attention of Mr. Aldo Cassidy ran the deferential inscription; for Aldo was his first name. He drove, as always, with the greatest concentration, and now and then he hummed to himself with that furtive sincerity common to the tone-deaf.
He was traversing a moor. A flimsy ground mist shifted over rhines and willow trees, slipped in little puffs across the glistening hood of his car, but ahead the sky was bright and cloudless and the spring sun made emeralds of the approaching hills. Touching a lever he lowered the electric window and leaned one side of his head into the rush of air. At once rich smells of peat and silage filled his nostrils. Over the reverent purr of the car's engine he caught the sounds of cattle and the cry of a cowhand harmlessly insulting them.
"It's an idyll," he declared aloud. "It's an absolute idyll."
Better still it was a safe idyll, for in the whole wide beautiful world Aldo Cassidy was the onlyperson who knew where he was.
Beyond his conscious hearing, a closed-off chamber of his memory echoed to the awkward chords of an aspiring pianist. Sandra, wife to Aldo, is extending her artistic range.
"Good news from Bristol," Cassidy said, talking over the music. "They think they can offer us a patch of land. We'll have to level it of course."
"Good," said Sandra, his wife, and carefully rearranged her hands over the keyboard.
"It's a quarter of a mile from the largest boys' school and eight hundred yards from the girls'. The city authorities say there's a fair chance that if we do the levelling and donate the changing rooms, they'll put up a foot-bridge on the by-pass."
She played a ragged chord.
"Not an ugly one, I hope. Town planning is extremely important, Aldo."
"Can I come?"
"Well you have got your clinic," he reminded her with tentative severity.
"Yes. Yes, I've got my clinic," Sandra agreed, her voice lilting slightly in counterpoint. "So you'll have to go alone, won't you? Poor Pailthorpe."
Pailthorpe was her private name for him, he could not remember why. Pailthorpe the Bear, probably; bears were their most popular fauna.
"I'm sorry," said Cassidy.
"It's not your fault," said Sandra. "It's the Mayor's, isn't it? After all," she added speculatively, "he runs the town, doesn't he?"
"Naughty Mayor," said Cassidy.
"Naughty Mayor," Sandra agreed.
"Spank him," Cassidy suggested.
"Spank, spank," gaily said Sandra, wife to Aldo, her face in combat with its shadows.
He was a fair-haired man of thirty-eight and quite handsome in certain lights. Like his car he was groomed with loving elegance. From the left-hand buttonhole to the breast pocket of his faultless suit ran a thin gold chain of obvious usefulness whose purpose was nevertheless undefined. Aesthetically it perfectly answered the subdued pin stripe of the cloth behind it; as a piece of rigging it joined the head of the man to the heart, but there was no telling which end if either held the mastery. In both build and looks he might have served as an architectural prototype for the middle-class Englishman privately educated between the wars; one who had felt the wind of battle but never the fire of it. Heavy at the waist, short in the leg, a squire always in the making, he possessed those doggedly boyish features, at once mature and retarded, which still convey a dying hope that his pleasures may be paid for by his parents. Not that he was effeminate. True, the mouth was well advanced from the rest of the face and quite deeply sculptured under the lower lip. True also that as he drove he was guilty of certain affectations which pointed in the female direction, such as brushing aside his forelock or putting back his head and wrinkling his eyes as though a sudden headache had interfered with brilliant thoughts. But if these mannerisms meant anything at all, then most likely they reflected a pleasing sensitivity towards a world occasionally too shrill for him, an empathy as much parental as childish, rather than any unwelcome tendencies left over from public school.
Clearly he was no stranger to the expense account. An untaxable affluence was legible in the thickening of the lower waistcoat (for his safety and comfort he had unfastened the top button of his trousers) and in the widths of white cuff which isolated his hands from manual labour; and there was already about his neck and complexion a sleek rich gloss, a tan almost, flambé rather than sun-given, which only balloon glasses, Bunsen burners, and the fumes of crêpes suzette can faithfully reproduce. Despite this evidence of physical well-being, or perhaps in contrast to it, the outward Cassidy possessed in some devious way the power, even the authority to disturb. Though he was not in the slightest degree pathetic there was something to him which caught the eye and demanded help. Somehow he managed to convey that the encroachments of the flesh had not yet killed the magic of the spirit.
As if in recognition of this protective rôle which Cassidy unconsciously imposed on his environment, the interior of the car was provided with many important adaptations designed to spare him the distressing consequences of collision. Not only had the walls and ceiling and doors been generously upholstered with additional layers of quilt; the steering wheel, the child-proof door handles -- already deeply recessed in succulent cavities of felt -- the glove compartment, brake lever, even the discreetly concealed fire extinguisher, each was separately encased in hand-stitched leather and padded with a pleasing flesh-like substance calculated to reduce the most drastic impact to no more than a caress. At the rear window a sun-proof canopy, electrically operated and bordered with small silk balls, hung poised to defend at any time the good man's neck against an overzealous sun or his eyesight against the harmful dazzle of alien headlights. As to the dashboard it was a veritable medicine chest of preventive physic: from blinker lights to ice-alert, from reserve battery to reserve oil supply, from safari petrol tank to auxiliary cooling system its switches anticipated every catastrophe known to nature and the manufacturing industries. Cassidy's was a car that conveyed rather than transported; a womb, one might even have thought, from whose padded, lubricated interior the occupant had yet to make his entry into the harder world.
"How far to Haverdown, do you mind?"
"Haverdown." Should he spell it? Most likely the fellow was illiterate. "Haverdown. The great house. The manor."
The lolling mouth opened and partially closed, voicelessly mimicking the name; a grimy arm struck towards the hill. "Straight on up over look."
"And is it far, would you say?" Cassidy enquired loudly, as if addressing the deaf.
"Won't take you more than five minutes, will it, not in her?"
"Thanks a million. Good luck to you old son."
In the mirror the yokel's brown face, frozen into an expression of comic incredulity, watched him out of sight. Well, thought Cassidy, the fellow has seen something of the world today and two shillings won't make him drunk.
All nature, it seemed, had turned out for his procession. In cottage gardens romping peasant children put aside their ancient games and turned to stare at him as he glided by. How pastoral, he thought; how rude, how vital. From trees and hedgerows buds of varying shades of green were bursting forth with seasonable energy, while in the fields wild daffodils mingled with other flowers he could not identify. Leaving the village, he began climbing a hill. The high banks gave way to sloping wooded glades. Below him farms, fields, churches, and rivers faded into far horizons. Lulled by such a delightful prospect he abandoned himself to the contemplation of his quest.
My pleasurable quest, as the favoured after-dinner speaker called it, my very pleasurable quest.
"A quest for what?" a nagging voice enquired inside him. "A quest towards, or a quest from?"
With an airy shake of his head, Cassidy brushed aside such pedantries. Nonsense, he told his inward audience, I have come to buy a house. Inspect it, cost it, buy it. And if I have not informed my wife, that is my own affair.
"Shall you stay all night?" Sandra remarked very casually. The piano practice temporarily interrupted, they were finishing their evening meal.
"We may not get going till five or so," Cassidy replied, avoiding the direct answer. "It depends when the Mayor's free." A clause of conciliation: "I thought I might take a book to read. If you could find me one."
Slowly, hand in hand with his cultural advisor, Cassidy the aspiring reader paraded the ranks of Sandra's bookshelves.
"Now," she mused, very earnest. "What do Pailthorpes read when they go gallivanting in Bristol?"
"It's got to be something I can manage when I'm a bit tight," he warned. They both laughed. "And not -- " recalling a previous selection " -- not Jane Austen."
They settled for non-fiction, a straight book suitable to a tired Pailthorpe of little fantasy.
"Sometimes," said Sandra playfully, "I wonder whether you ever really see these people at all."
"I don't," said nimble Cassidy, volleying at the net. "She's a blonde and she's eight feet tall."
"Sexy," said Sandra, wife to Aldo, kissing her loyal man. "What's her name?"
He hoped he had pronounced the word correctly. Such things can make a difference when one arrives in a new neighbourhood.
Was the a long or short? To have or to haver?
A pigeon was barring his approach. He sounded his horn. Prudently it withdrew.
And the down: what did down mean? A country gentleman should know his derivations. Down as in descent, or down as in the rolling downs in England? A happy repartee occurred to him, as with the exaggerated gesture of those enjoying their own company the ready wit raised his eyebrows and smiled in quiet academic superiority. Or down like duck-down, fluff? Answer me that if you please Messrs. Grimble and Outhwaite of Mount Street W.
It was a pretty name for all that, though names of course meant nothing in such cases. Stately too. Not Hall or Court or Grange, not Haverdown Manor even. Just Haverdown: a sovereign concept, as his Oxford tutor would have said, requiring no qualification. Haverdown. A man might well choose it as a title if such a thing were ever asked of him. "You know young Cassidy of Haverdown? Remarkable fellow. Flourishing business in London, gave it all up, came down here. Two years later made a going thing of farming. Knew damn all about it when he began, total duffer. Mind you they do say he's a bit of a financial wizard. Locals adore him of course. Generous to a fault."
About to consult the mirror in order light-heartedly to put a face to his baronial image, Cassidy veered sharply. The entrance is marked by a Pair of finely pointed stone gateposts surmounted by ornamental Beasts dating from the sixteenth Century. Directly before him, two disintegrating griffins, glumly clutching armorial shields, rose into the green darkness of a beech tree. Their feet were manacled to the plinth and their shoulders hunched from fatigue. Intently, Cassidy examined their scrolled shields. An eroded diagonal cross formed the central theme, feathers or recumbent serpents filled the upper triangle. He frowned in perplexity. Feathers were Wales, that much he knew; but was not the cross Saint Andrew? And was not Saint Andrew Scotland, hence the golf course?
Shifting gears, he set off along the drive. Patience. In due course he would research the matter, it would be an occupation for the winter months. He had always fancied himself as something of a local historian, browsing in county libraries, inspiring local digs, sending postcards to learned vicars.
"Perhaps," said Sandra, wife to Aldo, as they made ready for bed, "next time you go, I could come?"
"Of course you can," said Cassidy. "We'll make a special trip."
"An ordinary trip will do," said Sandra and put out the light.
Briefly the coppice closed round him. Over a carpet of bluebells he caught a glint of water between the trees. The drive returned him to the sunlight, passed a derelict cottage, skirted a rusted iron fence. Now a broken signpost drunkenly divided the approach. Tradesmen left and visitors right. I'm both, Cassidy thought gaily and took the right fork. Tulips lined the verges, poking their heads between the nettles. Lot of stock there, if only he could get at the weeds in time. The pond was overgrown. Dragonflies switched across the unbroken surface of the lily leaves, bullrushes almost obscured the boathouse. How fast was nature to reclaim her own, Cassidy reflected in growing exhilaration, how inexorable, how maternal was her will!
On its own grass plateau, between a ruined chapel and the picked skeleton of a fruithouse, Haverdown rose suddenly before him.
An Historic and Scheduled FORTIFIED MANOR HOUSE AND KEEP thirty Miles from Bath (Paddington one Hour forty minutes) Haverdown is a GENTLEMAN'S RESIDENCE FULLY EQUIPPED FOR IMMEDIATE OCCUPATION WITH FIVE LOOSE BOXES AND FORTY ACRES OF GOOD GRAZING. The style is part Tudor part Earlier with restorations dating Chiefly from the Georgian period at which time the original Keep was substantially rebuilt under the genius of LORD Alfred de Waldebere. His many fine Additions include a Fine Curved Staircase in the Style of adam and a number of Fine ITALIAN BUSTS of great Value which are included in the Asking price. Since Earliest Times Haverdown has been the Home and Fortress of the de Waldebere family.
THE GEORGIAN PORTION. Perfectly sited on a natural Spur the distinguished south Face discreetly Masters some of the finest Scenery in Somerset. The elevations are of old Brick, mellowed by Time and weather to a pleasing russet Hue. The centre block is crowned by a Shallow pediment of Bath stone. Eight freestone Treads worn by the feet of ages lead to a fine imposing curved Portico carried by six Individual Pillars. To the West, between the Chapel and the Fruithouse, a superb Cupola in need of Minor Repair offsets the symmetry. The Pigeon croft is in its unspoilt Original condition providing ample Space for heating unit, Guesthouse or GENTLEMAN'S STUDIO RETREAT. In rear GARDEN cast-lead cupid in TRADITIONAL POSE, valued separately see annexe.
THE EARLIER PORTION consists of fine battlemented TOWER with Original steps and Bellchamber adjoining to a Row of tudor Almshouses. Central to these stands the castellated Great Hall and Refectory with fine basements under and OLD MOAT ROUND. In the Great Hall, surely one of the finest in the West of england, a Minstrel Gallery dating from the reign of King Edward the 1st comprises the principal Feature. From here according to local lore, journeying Musicians paid their tribute to SIR Hugo de Waldebere the first Recorded Owner of Haverdown until the Year 1261 when he was Outlawed for felony. The House passed to his younger Son whereafter no Tenancy is recorded until 1760 when Lord ALFRED returned from Foreign Parts to rebuild the Home of his Forebears, probably after Catholic Persecutions had temporarily dispersed them. The Gardens are conceived on the CLASSICAL English Pattern of containing Nature without undue Formality and are in need of upkeep all enquiries
SOLELY THROUGH ABOVE NAMED
REFER JR/P MR. GRIMBLE
Carefully replacing the prospectus in its stand and detaching a light cashmere overcoat from its ingenious hanger beside the rear window, Cassidy happened to glance backwards past the baby seat and the silk balls of the blind, and was subjected to a remarkable hallucination. The drive had vanished. Thick walls of green, pierced with dark tunnels, had closed upon his route and cut him off from the outside world. He was alone in a magic cave of dark green; at the pantomime, his father's guest; in childhood, thirty years ago....
Afterwards, he was well able to explain this optical illusion. A strand of vapour, he assured himself, such as lay upon the moor, had settled below the level of his immediate vision, and by some trick of light assumed the colour of the foliage. It had been raining (as indeed it had) and the moisture on the drive, aided by the low sun, had set up a green shimmer which gave it the appearance of high grass. Or he himself, by the quick movement of his head after the long drive, had transposed upon his own vision images from other places...a natural coincidence therefore, such as mirages are made of.
Nevertheless, for an instant, and perhaps for much longer in terms of the interior experience of Aldo Cassidy, he had the sense of being caught up in a world that was not as controllable as the world he was accustomed to: a world, in short, capable of dismaying metaphysical leaps, and although a second examination soon restored the drive to its rightful position in the scheme of things, its agility, or rather the remembrance of it, caused him to remain seated for a moment while he collected himself. It was with some distrust, therefore, as well as a lingering sense of disconnection, that he finally opened the door and cautiously lowered one well-shod foot on to the capricious surface of the earth.
"And enjoy yourself," Sandra, his protective spouse, had warned him at breakfast in her army officer voice. "Don't let them browbeat you. Remember it's you who are doing the giving."
"I'll try," Cassidy promised with an English hero's smile.
His first impression, far from pleasurable, was that he had stepped into an air raid. A fierce evening wind had come up from the east, battering his eardrums and crashing like gunfire into the elms. Above him, recklessly swirling rooks dived and screamed at his intrusion. The house itself had already been hit. It groaned from every door and casement, waving its useless limbs in outrage, slapping them in agony against its own defenceless walls. At its base lay the débris of masonry and tiles. A fallen cable passed close over his head and ran the length of the garden. For one disgusting moment Cassidy fancied, looking up at it, that he saw a dead pigeon hanging from its frayed binding, but it was only an old shirt left behind by a careless gypsy and wound upon itself by a careless wind. Odd, he thought, recovering his composure: looks like one of mine, the kind we wore a few years back, striped, with stiff collars and a generous width of cuff.
He was extremely cold. The weather, which had looked so gentle and inviting from within the car, now assaulted him with a quite unnatural venom, inflating his thin coat with barbarous draughts and lashing at the cuffs of his tailored lightweight suit. Indeed so sudden and so fierce was the first impact of reality upon his internal reveries that Cassidy was actually tempted to return then and there to the safety of his car, and it was only a late assertion of the bulldog spirit that stayed his hand. After all, if he was to spend the rest of his life here he might as well start getting used to the climate. He had driven, by his own standards, a long way, a hundred miles or so; was he seriously proposing to turn back for a mere breeze? Resolutely fastening his collar he embarked in earnest upon the first phase of his inspection.
He called this process taking the feel of the place. It was one he had rehearsed often and which involved the sampling of many intangible elements. The setting for instance: is it hostile or amicable? Does it offer seclusion, which is desirable, or isolation, which is not? Does it embrace the occupant, or expose him? Was he -- a vital question -- born here, is that a feasibility?
Despite the cold, his initial impressions were not unfavourable. The park, which clearly provided the view from the principal windows of the house, had a lush pastoral quality which was distinctly soothing. The trees were deciduous (a rare advantage since he secretly found conifers too bleak) and their great age imbued them with a fatherly gentleness.
The wind had dropped and the rooks were slowly settling. From the moor, where the sea fog still clung, the rasp of a handsaw vied with the grumbling of livestock. He examined the grazing. Good fencing there, ample space for ponies provided there was no yew to poison them. He had read somewhere, probably in Cobbett, whose Rural Rides he had studied for School Certificate, that yew poisoned ponies, and it was one of those aimless cruelties of nature which had remained impressed upon his memory.
Palominos, that was the word.
I shall have palominos. No need for shelter, the chestnuts will provide the shelter. The Welsh variety is best: hardy beasts, he had heard from all sides, self-sufficient and cheap to run. The right temperament too: townsmen could manhandle them without danger of reprisal.
He sniffed the air.
Woodsmoke, damp pine, and the indefinable mustiness that is fostered by neglect. I find no fault with it.
Now at last, quite coolly in his outward manner, he turned to the house and gave it his critical attention. A deep silence had fallen over the hilltop. In the trees nothing stirred. The shirt hung motionless from its cable. For long minutes he remained as if in prayer, his gloved hands loosely linked over his stomach, his shoulders well back, his fair head a little to one side, a survivor mourning his lost comrades.
Aldo Cassidy in the twilight of his thirty-ninth spring surveyed the elegant wreck of a dozen English generations.
The light was dying even as he stood there. Red shafts glinted from the buckled weather vane, touched what little glass remained in the sash windows, and were gone. A rock, he thought, with a gush of proud Victorian purple. A mountain peak against the evening sky, unscalable and immutable, an organic outcrop of English history. A rock, he repeated, his romantic heart pounding with half-remembered lines of English poetry; broken from the earth, whose name is England. A rock, fashioned by the hand of centuries, hewn by God's masons, guarded by His soldiers.
What would I not give to have been born of such a place? How much bigger, how much braver could I not be? To draw my name, my faith, my ancestry, even my profession perhaps from such a monument of heroic ages: to be a crusader still, serving not brashly but with humble courage a cause too evident to be defined? To swim in my own moat, to cook in my own refectory, to dine in my own Great Hall, to meditate in my own cell? To walk in my own crypt among the shell-torn standards of my forebears; to nurture tenants, counsel wayward servants, and till the earth in pleasingly dilapidated tweeds?
Gradually a vision formed before the dreamer's inner eye.
It is Christmas evening and the trees are bare against the early sunset. A solitary figure, no longer young, dressed in costly but unobtrusive habit, is riding through the long shadows of the chestnut avenue. The horse, well conscious of its precious burden, is docile even in sight of home. A lantern is beckoning in the portico, merry servants hasten to the door. "Pleasant ride then, Mr. Aldo?" "Not bad, Giles, not bad. No no I'll rub him down myself, thank you. Good evening, Mrs. Hopcroft. The celebrations well advanced I trust?"
And within, what then? No children, grandchildren tugging at his hand? No amiable lady in a long tweed skirt woven on the premises, no Eve, descending the Fine Curved Staircase in the Style of adam, holding a bowl of potpourri in her unhardened hands? No Sandra, younger by a dozen years, piano-less, free of her private darkness, unquestioning of Aldo's male sovereignty? Born to the gracious life, fresh to him, witty, varied, and adoring? "Poor love you must be frozen through. I lit a fire in the library. Come, let me help you with your boots."
There was no within. Cassidy on such occasions concerned himself resolutely with exteriors.
It was all the more surprising to him, therefore, chancing to look irritably upwards at a flock of doves whose restless fluttering had disrupted his reflections, to notice a faint but undeniable curl of woodsmoke rising from the western chimney stack and a real light, very yellow like an oil light, swinging gently in that same portico through which, in his imagination, he had that minute passed.
"Hullo lover," a pleasant voice said. "Looking for someone, are we?"
Copyright © 1979 by David Cornwell
What People are saying about this
“Splendid, original…le Carré shows how endowed he is with the gift of storytelling.”—The Times (UK)
“Comic and touching…this novel is brilliant and marvelously good reading.”—Book World
Meet the Author
New York Times bestselling author John le Carré (A Delicate Truth and Spy Who Came in from the Cold) was born in 1931 and attended the universities of Bern and Oxford. He taught at Eton and served briefly in British Intelligence during the Cold War. For the last fifty years he has lived by his pen. He divides his time between London and Cornwall.
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I thought I had read most of le Carre's books but somehow I missed this one. What an imagination he has! While totally different from his usual spy novels, it still presents interesting characters and exotic locations. The author makes full use of the double entendre and the writing is filled with innuendoes...great fun. One can't help smiling at Cassidy's naivety as he befriends a pair of strange bedfellows and questions his earlier existence. What follows is an absolute romp. Very entertaining.
I re-read all the LeCarre's every few years and this is one of my personal favorites. It's not a spy story, it's a love story, and a very strange one at that. It is a bit hard to take in places, but stay with it; the major characters absolutely leap out of the page at you and will insist on staying with you for a long time, even if you find them unattractive, which you probably will. One of LeCarre's favorite themes - that the reasons people have for doing the things they do are never as simple as they seem - is explored fully here, and with much more direct disclosure than it is in, for example, the Smiley books. That our close-up view of Cassidy's journey works so well is probably because we don't expect him (unlike a spy) to be very good at concealing his feelings or his motivations. Through his many illusions he tells us all, and that is the disarming charm of this wierd and wonderful story.