Well well well. I did NOT expect this book to be the 2nd best thing I would read in 2016. But it is. The writing is simple to read but has a great deal of accuracy regarding the life of a spy. Pilgrim himself is an amalgamation of James Bond (the Daniel Craig iteration, not the cheesy nonsense of yesteryear) and Sherlock Holmes – possessing the brains and (to an extent) brawn that an exciting spy should have. The plot is bombastic at times and emotionally gripping throughout. A compelling antagonist should be either be completely evil or a sad, relatable figure….who is also completely evil. The Saracen is the latter. His childhood trauma results in him becoming a monstrous figure but this allows the author to show him as human enough to illicit a touch of sympathy. Only a touch, mind – the dude is a genocidal maniac, after all. Something the novel does magnificently is connecting ideas that appear to be unconnected. The crime scene of the opening chapters and the potential terrorist attack aren’t linked exactly but they do affect each other for Pilgrim which constantly had me wracking my brain for answers. I Am Pilgrim is 900 pages and I read it in two sittings. TWO. I just could not stop until Pilgrim either saved the world or doomed it. If the other books by Terry Hayes are this good, my bank account is surely the thing that is doomed.
5 out of 5.
Thanks for that Adam. Your reviews make me smile! This is another I struggled with. I am the black dog of the group, that’s for sure, but isn’t it wonderful how 7 people can each have their own and varied views of the same subject. That’s what great Book Clubs are made of and ours is great!
Now, I didn’t realise that the author Terry Hayes is a screenwriter having penned Mad Max 2 and Dead Play. I am Pilgrim is his debut novel. Here is a review I read about it in the Guardian.
As a screenwriter, Terry Hayes gave us Mad Max 2 and Dead Calm. His debut novel has been hyped as “the only thriller you need to read this year”, and for once that isn’t nonsense. I Am Pilgrim (Bantam, £12.99) makes moussaka of its rivals, not because it does anything so radical as reboot the genre – a claim that’s been made for it – but because it features a solid, credible hero (a US intelligence agent codenamed Pilgrim) moving through a solid, credible world; a worthy adversary in the Saracen, a jihadist doctor radicalised by watching his father’s beheading; and a dazzling structure that fuses the micro plot (what looks like the perfect murder has been committed in a run-down Manhattan apartment) with the macro plot (the Saracen has created a version of smallpox with which he hopes to destroy America) into a Möbius-like loop of pure narrative pleasure.
Hayes gives Pilgrim a superhero’s background – after his mother’s murder he was adopted by a well-meaning billionaire – and as an agent he is at the top of the pile, answerable only to the president. Yet where most spies are sociopathic, Pilgrim is capable of both loyalty and an intense cross-cultural empathy, which gives him the edge over his colleagues.
A progressive hero, then, but one adrift in a novel whose engine is an invidious post-9/11 paranoia. Pilgrim acknowledges in an offhand way that the US does shady stuff it shouldn’t, but in the broader context of a plausible novel about a terrorist spectacular, the message that the NSA should have carte blanche to intercept and imprison is beamed out loud and clear.
So sorry for the delay in post this. Has it really been a year since we read it???
Please comment and let us know what you think of this book. Thank you