The Constant Gardener

Posted by on Thursday, July 6th, 2006

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre and The Constant Gardener starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz.

It took me forever to read any Le Carre.  I wouldn’t read Le Carre because the last time I saw my illustrious father, he told me I would like Le Carre.  He then told some ridiculous story about trying to break into the Russian Embassy in the late 1960s while he was tripping, in an attempt to charm my friend Mikele Ann–I think Mikele and I were 21 at the time.  My father’s endorsement can serve as a lifetime bar for me.  But my Mom lifted the ban recently, explaining that I would actually like this novel in particular, and pointing out some silliness along the lines of "if you refuse to partake of things because your bone-headed pater familias enjoys them, you’re going to have to give up most of the literary Canon, read meat, dogs, cats, alcohol, sarcasm, blue and green eyes, European cars, jazz, rock, old-time, travel . . .  It will leave you with just me, my potato salad, your Step-Dad, and work." 

So, Mom gave me her copy of the book and a solid rave.  Mom was right.  I really liked the book, despite its flaws.  I researched Africa, health-care, and African health care a fair amount in my old sovereignty policy  job, and I was in the thick of that study when this story broke: The Body Hunters: Washington Post.  Suffice it to say, I’m permanently appalled by the state of health care in Africa, the feeble response of the richest nations in the world, and the avaricious, unethical actions of the pharmaceutical industry’s outposts in Africa.

The novel follows a British diplomat and gardener and his well-educated, gorgeous, younger, activist wife.  The pair are living in Kenya, and the wife begins to investigate a TB drug that seems to have deadly side-effects.  Chaos ensues, people die, and pharmaceutical companies and diplomats alike end up looking like monsters.

Parts are overwrought.  Some of the plot twists are pretty ludicrous.  I forgive it all, because I’m just so glad that someone with as much reach into the popular market as Le Carre has planted a seed in so many people’s minds. 

The film, as per usual, was a bit of a disappointment after the novel.  Some things changed, some things had to be cut.  But, as movies made from books go, it was pretty darn good.  Fiennes and Weisz both gave good performances, but I’m pretty sure that Fiennes is too young, too handsome, and too charming to fit the part he was supposed to be playing.  Everyone in the story is supposed to be shocked that Justin Quayle managed to catch and keep such an amazing young woman.  I don’t think the average viewer is shocked by the idea of Ralph Fiennes marrying a brilliant, beautiful younger woman.  But Hollywood is never going to cast films as I wish they would, so I should just get used to it. 

So, yeah, liked both book and movie.

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