John Le Carre is good at integrating thought and action

I was reading a couple old Le Carre spy novels. They have their strong points and their weak points; I’m not gonna claim that Le Carre is a great writer. He’s no George Orwell or Graham Greene. (This review by the great Clive James nails Le Carre perfectly.)

But I did notice one thing Le Carre does very well, something that I haven’t seen discussed before in his writing, which is the way he integrates thought and action. A character will be walking down the street, or having a conversation, or searching someone’s apartment, and will be going through a series of thoughts while doing things. The thoughts and actions go together.

Ummm, here’s an example:

It’s not that the above passage by itself is particularly impressive; it’s more that Le Carre does this consistently. So he’s not just writing an action novel with occasional ruminations; rather, the thoughts are part of the action.

Writing this, it strikes me that this is commonplace, almost necessary, in a bande desinnée, but much more rare in a novel.

Also it’s important when we are teaching and when we are writing technical articles and textbooks: we’re doing something and explaining our motivation and what we’re learning, all at once.