Ken Follett Follett, Ken(neth) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Follett, Ken(neth) 1949–

Follett is a Welsh-born British novelist, journalist, and author of filmscripts and nonfiction who first gained recognition for his Eye of the Needle in 1978. A World War II spy thriller, it was praised for its unusual twists in plot and atmosphere of tension and suspense. With the publication of another best seller, Triple, and additional exposure through film adaptation of Eye of the Needle, Follett is developing a substantial following. He has also written under various pseudonyms. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If Frederick Forsyth could write as well as he can plot and if John Le Carré could plot as well as he can write, one of them might have produced Eye Of The Needle.

This is, quite simply, the best spy novel to come out of England in years. If it ranks below Ambler and Greene at their best, it is because Ken Follett is writing in retrospect about a world and time he could not have known. The 1939–45 war was, to its philosophic witnesses, a moral crisis. A sense of hesitant and then enraged ethical speculation permeates the literature of the period. (pp. F1, F4)

Because the retrospective view is simpler, the writer is tempted to make his wartime heroes and villains out of cardboard. Follet has resisted the temptation….

In 1937 German intelligence—which was more zealous than expert—slipped a super-agent into Britain, a man known as "Die Nadel"—The Needle. In the parlance of spycraft, The Needle is put to sleep until he's needed….

By 1944, a few weeks from D-Day, the British and the Americans have set up an elaborate ruse to fool the Germans into believing that the invasion will be mounted across the shortest span of the Channel—at the Pas de Calais.

The Needle discovers the deception. Not trusting radio communication, he makes a run for Germany to get the information home before the invasion is mounted.

The two men out to catch...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Michael Wood

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Eye of the Needle [is] a deft thriller….

The book is smartly put together along lines suggested by Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carré. As in The Day of the Jackal, a double narrative focuses on the pursuer and the pursued, with the suspense extremely well sustained…. The British in Eye of the Needle can be just as ruthless as anyone else—being thoroughly careless of lives that are of no practical value to them. There is a nicely rendered sense of England during the war …, a careful dosage of explicit sexual activity, and plenty of cold-blooded violence.

The book is so well done and so enjoyable that I was surprised to find myself not liking it more than I did. There is something unusually heartless about it that comes, I think, from playing the shrewd and disabused British sensibility across the heroic days of World War II. Follett seems to suggest that the Germans really deserved to win because Hitler's hunch was right about Normandy and because the Germans were not so sloppy or self-satisfied as the English. The Needle is not just the hero in the work, he is also the only genuine human being in it. The historical characters and minor figures are neatly executed cartoons, the spy catchers are blurred images of English officialdom, and the beautiful girl is a frisky and courageous piece of wish fulfillment. The spy, on the other hand, throws up every time he kills someone and has...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Anatole Broyard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Triple"] is eminently qualified for … popularity, for its behind-the-scenes interpretation of contemporary events includes everything in the political and emotional spectrum, as well as what someone calls the hijacking of a holocaust….

"Triple" offers a literally earthshaking—i.e., atomic—confrontation among Israel, the Egyptians and the Fedayeen, with the Russians, Americans and French muttering in the background. And it has an Israeli hero no bigger than Woody Allen in a superman role.

Anatole Broyard, "'Triple'," in The New York Times, Section III (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 3, 1979 (and reprinted in Books of the Times, Vol. II, No. 10, 1979, p. 482).

Lisa Derman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There are no secrets and few surprises in Triple, but Ken Follett knows other ways to keep tension high in his thrillers. Follett has taken one convention of the spy-novel—spy accomplishes dangerous mission, barely avoiding treacherous counter-agents—and turned it inside-out once again. In The Eye of the Needle, the protagonist is a World War II German spy who we hope will be caught. In Triple, Israeli agent Nat Dickstein is the hero, but one whose identity is uncovered, whose plans are guessed, and whose every move is traced by Russian and Egyptian spies.

So the tension in this well-constructed thriller stems solely from Nat keeping one step ahead of his opponents. His mission includes several topics of current interest, and is complicated enough to keep one wondering how it ever could be concluded successfully…. How he manages this (all the time wishing he were back on his kibbutz growing grapes—no appealing spy hero enjoys his job), and how the Russian and Egyptian agents follow him and try to stop him, make for all-in-one-sitting reading. And the technical and political details, plus the requisite romance and sex scenes, fill out the book nicely, without the padding that clouded The Eye of the Needle. (pp. 36-7)

Lisa Derman, "Brief Reviews: 'Triple'," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1979 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 181, No. 19, November 10, 1979, pp. 36-7.

Robert Lekachman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ken Follett's forte is the variation upon history. His previous best seller, Eye of the Needle, concerned a demon German spy in England who nearly won the war for Hitler. It really wasn't half bad. Triple plays variations on the usual assumption that the Israelis gained the ability to make atomic weapons by hijacking the essential uranium. The book is an account of how they pulled off their coup, told very much from the Israeli point of view…. Triple is a readable adventure story, a success in a form quite different from that of Le Carré. No ambiguities, just good guys versus bad ones. (p. 505)

Robert Lekachman, "Good Boys, Bad Boys, Old Boys," in The Nation (copyright 1980 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 230, No. 16, April 26, 1980, pp. 504-06.∗

Peter Andrews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"The Key to Rebecca" is an assured best seller even before publication, with a first printing of 100,000 copies, a major subsidiary success with sales to the leading book clubs, a serialization smash with rights sold to just about every publication this side of Presbyterian Life, and a perfectly dreadful novel. I suppose it says something about American tastes in popular fiction but I don't like to think what. Mr. Follett's first novel, "The Eye of the Needle," got by on a pass, but this one should have a bell tied to it before being let out on the streets.

The story could have been a good one. It is a fictionalized account of the famous Kondor mission, a German espionage operation set up in Cairo...

(The entire section is 490 words.)