Looking back

North face of the Eiger. The ultimate assassin's challenge.
By Terra3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Reading Trevanian's The Eiger Sanction reminded me that the past is indeed a different country, where things are done very differently, and also how glad I am that I was a child and not a woman in the late '60s / early '70s, as this spy extravaganza reminded you how awful a period it was in many ways.

I've seen the film of The Eiger Sanction many times, and enjoy it in a rather guilty pleasure sort of way. It's got one of my favourite villains, lovely Jack Cassidy, who crossed swords with Columbo several times, there's Clint Eastwood looking rather more inscrutable than usual, wonderful scenery, a very un-John Williams' like neo-Baroque score that is as icy as the Cold War, hugely suspenseful, and some great mountaineering photography. It's also surprisingly witty.

In many ways the book is not that far removed from the film (not surprising as the author aka Rod Whitaker was also one of the screenwriters). The book is often very funny, and is quite clearly buying into the James Bond market of smart, sassy and daring espionage. Both book and film centre around Dr. Jonathan Hemlock, an art expert, who also happens to be an assassin for an American intelligence agency. He has the customary weird boss, assorted peculiar villains, a plethora of women throwing themselves at him, and a great line in irony. He also appears to have many of Ian Fleming's sado-masochistic tendencies. Hence presumably why both Fleming and Trevanian were wildly popular, though Trevanian is now largely forgotten.

Actually I'm not surprised he's forgotten because although there are some things he does brilliantly well - the suspense especially towards the latter part of the novel following the climb up the Eiger is astonishing - his attitudes stink. Women are treated like disposable assets throughout the novel. They are of negligible interest even to themselves from the waist up. It's '70's attitudes at their most frank and unpleasant.

Oddly though, I thought it was worth reading. Very little beats a pot-boiler novel as a barometer of the day, and just in case I was ever tempted to look back and think that everything was fine in the past, this was a salient reminder that it wasn't. Not just in the world of feminism either, The Eiger Sanction was an all too real reminder of  the coldness, intransigence and suspicion of the world of the Cold War. Eiger Sanction proved to be an unexpected window into a world, some aspects of which I had largely forgotten. It proved to be a bit of a time-machine, but isn't one that I would necessarily choose to travel in again any time soon.


Popular Posts