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The Constant Gardener


Ever since he acquired a political agenda for himself, John Le Carre's writing has suffered a bit. Although not as bad as the dreary Single And Single, The Constant Gardener is not one of his better books. Not that it was bad – an off-color Le Carre can run elaborate circles around most people writing today.

The plotting was intricate, and the characterization and prose were as smooth as ever but the thinly veiled preachiness that lay just beneath the surface was too easily discernible. Le Carre had moved away from the nuanced gray's of his old works and created a white and black world: The bad guys were a little too bad (and white), and the good guys were a little too, well, little.

Ironically enough, The Constant Gardener might just provide Le Carre with something that has eluded his books since The Spy Who Came In From The Cold: A good movie adaptation.

The New York Times has a story about how Fernando Meirelles, director of the City of God was roped in to do the movie.

Right away he started tinkering with Jeffrey Caine's screenplay. “When John le Carré wrote the story, the story's seen through a British point of view,” Mr. Meirelles said in an interview in New York in June. “And I think when I read the story, I put myself on the Kenyan side because, really, I come from Brazil.” Among other things, Mr. Meirelles wrote several new African characters into the story, not all of whom survived the cutting process.

What does remain is a remarkable sense of place: a vivid evocation of the Kenyan landscape and cityscape in one of Nairobi's most down-and-out neighborhoods, through which sewage flows in open, rag-cluttered trenches; and tracking shots of Kibera, Nairobi's sprawling, tin-roofed shantytown, which are as enthralling as they are disturbing.