The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Summer Reading IV: Red Rabbit

Hopefully I won’t be boring anyone with my summer reading but, then, my main purpose in blogging is for personal reflection and recording, not for gaining an audience. (That being said, I certainly appreciate those who come and read my musings and those who comment, as well.)

As previously noted, I am working my way through Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan/John Clark universe” collection. I just finished reading Red Rabbit, which is a later book (in terms of when it was written), but takes place early on. Over all, I enjoyed the book. It gives some interesting insights into life in Soviet Socialist Russia in the early 1980s, albeit from a very Western perspective.

It is fun to see how Tom Clancy places his characters in key places in history, or, rather, in the alternate universe that parallels our own. The American president in clearly Ronald Reagan, but his name is never given. Likewise with the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher or the Polish Pope, John Paul II. This is an idiosyncratic thing that Clancy does in nearly all of his books. The players in the various government bureaus all have names, like Emil Jacobs, head of the FBI, Arthur Moore, Director of Central Intelligence, and his two deputies, James Greer and Bob Ritter. But the Heads of State are always referred to by title, not name. Even the Royal Family in England is never named.

The story focuses on Clancy’s fictionalised account of one of the many theories surrounding the assassination attempt on Pope John Pual II in the early 1980s. Not knowing much about the actual historical account beforehand, other than the fact that it had happened and that it was the primary reason for the Popemobile being more secure with bullet-proof glass. (Interesting side-note: apparently “Popemobile” is an acceptable informal term for the vehicle that has no formal moniker. Go figure.) The “Red Rabbit” is a Soviet defector (“rabbit” being used as an espionage terms to describe a defector) who has learned of the assassination plot on the Pope and wishes to alert the Americans so as to protect the life of an innocent man.

While enjoyable, it was not the most suspenseful of Clancy’s novels, and it certainly didn’t have the usual plots, sub-plots, and sub-sub-plots that are typical of his works. I get the feeling that this story was more of an attempt to flesh out the Ryan biography (and earn some more money) than to really present a gripping tale of suspense and intrigue. Next up is The Hunt for Red October, which was actually the first Clancy novel I ever read.

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5 responses

  1. I am never bored, though I do wish your book reviews had a bit more teeth to them. Why let Clancy, for example, off so easily for greedy laziness? No sub plots, indeed! For shame! Also, I will make the very small quibble that Clancy’s western (read: Cold War) insight into Soviet life is not to be trusted too far. He is both ideologue and novelist…an obnoxious combination.

    July 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

  2. I don’t like book reviews that give all the details of the story. Besides, I’m not really reviewing the book as I am making a record of what I have read and whether or not I enjoyed reading it. I like to let the reader decide on their own if the book is enjoyable for them.

    And let’s be honest: what novelist is NOT an ideologue?

    July 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

  3. Many novelists escape that label…Boyle comes to mind because I’m reading him at the moment. For novelists who address international espionage themes, I could mention LeCarre. Clancy seems to be more imbued with the spirit of Cold War nationalism I associate with ideological biases.

    It would not hurt the readers’ enjoyment to get more of the story from you…especially those parts that you found more enjoyable or meaningful, and those you found annoying. In fact, I for one would enjoy reading a review that really dug into the book and revealed both its inner workings and your mind at work, masticating ideas like hyenas cracking the fleshy bones of a thoroughly eviscerated prey. Draw blood laddy!!

    July 12, 2011 at 2:54 pm

  4. I think you can find ideology in every author’s writing. Heck, that is essentially what students are taught to do from an early age: identify the author’s purpose. Every author has a message in his or her writing; some are just better than others at masking it. Clancy makes no apology for his American patriotism; in fact, his love of America and her military and intelligence services quite clearly inform his writing, much as Jon Stewart’s political views inform his comedy.

    Concerning the latter part of your comment, I’ll be totally honest: I don’t know how to summarise a book properly. I always provide either too much information or too little. If you want a thorough summary, turn to the NY Times or the Washington Post or even Wikipedia.

    It typically takes me three readings of a book to really be able to delve deeply into it. I read the first time for familiarity and the pure joy of simply reading, the second time for understanding, and the third time for synthesis. Since there are few books that I actually read that often, most of my reviews are simply whether or not I found the book enjoyable. I am content to leave it that way; I don’t think it does justice to a book to read once and rip through it the ways paid critics do. In fact, I tend to ignore the critical commentary for exactly that reason: they haven’t really delved deeply into the book; they’ve simply given it a cursory glance.

    July 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm

  5. I’m not sure I would equate purpose and message with ideology. The latter possesses more the sense of an organized system of thought, usually having political, social or religious overtones. An author’s purpose or message might have nothing of that sort.

    Clancy is, of course, known for his (kneejerk) patriotism, so when I go to his works I don’t expect much in the way of subtlety or nuance in the way he develops stories and characters. Let us leave him to one side and address the more intriguing (to me) issue of how to write a good review.

    Just two thoughts: 1.) It’s all in how you eat an elephant; and 2.) The mind of the reader intertwines with the book to make a new and altogether new thing–that is the stuff of the review. In other words a good review should present slices of the book within the context of the reviewer’s experience and or thoughts. A good review tells not only what is in the book but also what it means. I personally also address the quality of the writing because that is important to me.

    If you want to get deeper into this I am always available.

    Sorry I missed you and G. tonight. Glad your interview went well. All fingers toes and sundry appendages are crossed in you behalf!

    July 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm

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