Jasmine’s Tortoise is the first novel of Corinne who has written non fiction books about her family’s involvement in spying and her experiences as a lobbyist during the Major-Blair years. It is clear that much of Corinne Souza life is woven into the novel’s mix of fictional and historical events that unfolds from1965 to 2002. Souza’s father is clearly used as a source for Jasmine’s father and she like Jasmine owes her British passport to the spy trade.
The book covers 40 turbulent years from the ellipse of the Puppet Hashemite monarchy by secular Arab nationalism to its eventual challenge by Islamic militancy and Kurdish nationalism. These local changes are shaped if not controlled by the ebb and flow of the big three imperial powers:
The story starts in
The book is structured with a prologue setting out all the main characters and their relationship in 2002 before diving back to
Clearly an ambitious and multi-layer story so does it work? Only partly has to be the honest answer. The flaw is that the writing does not match the ambition of the story. The characters are often two-dimensional, and clichés with barely distinguishable voices but they do serve as effective pegs to move the plot on at a quick pace. And who complains when Fleming and Agatha Christies characters serve the same purpose?
We also have a POV that switches character within the same page as well as an irritating habit of the writer as untended narrator explaining words and actions. This would have been fine in a historical account but not in a novel as it all adds to effect of the reader being distant and observing rather then participating in the story. Again fine as long as the reader is interested in plot rather then character driven stories.
So is the plot credible? The opening prologue is over complex and slows the introduction to the story; this could have perhaps been better handled perhaps as a press interview of Jasmine so become a narrative that intrigues us. Nor do we have the back story of why key central characters are so loyal to each other. The importance given to British Intelligence, Masons and Employer associations stretches credibility. But Lodges were in the British Middle East until closed down in the mid 60’s, and until the 90’s employees with a radical past were black-listed and British intelligence did play dirty tricks with the Labour Party. And as for the corruption of the Government sponsored arms trade just read the latest news headlines! So the story is an exaggeration and simplification of the truth which will irate some readers but not all.
In the end, the potential fatal flaw of the novel is who is the intended readership? In wanting to explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world, it suffers in comparison with Graham Greene who managed to combine serious literary acclaim with wide popularity. Yet it lacks the technically detailed espionage and military science storylines of say a Tom Clancy or the focus on one heroic man, or a small group of crusading individuals, in a struggle against powerful adversaries of say a Robert Ludlum. Despite these reservations and limitations it is still a good holiday read but given a good cast, and screenplay it would really work as a mini commercial TV series.