Wednesday, December 07, 2011
The Spy who came in from the Cold
By John Le Carré
I believe this is le Carré's first novel, and it seems obvious when you compare it to 'The Honourable Schoolboy', for this book is only a quarter of the thickness of the other, and has the density of quality that you only ever find in older books. That is to say; from the days when a novel was not expected to be more than 300 pages long.
'The Spy who came in from the Cold' is a short and bitter read, but refreshing all the same, like a good mug of tea where the tea bag has been left in to concentrate all the taste in the last mouthful. The protagonist is an aging British spy named Leamas who is sent on a final mission to bring revenge to the East German spy master who killed off all his agents. Leamas must first establish himself as a credible candidate for defection, then allow himself to be lured over to the enemy. The novel describes this process, but the emphasis, as always with Le Carré has more to do with Leamas's humanity, and his conscience as a spy, than with his mission. As in 'The Honourable Schoolboy', love plays a significant part in the problems Leamas faces, so much so that the two stories are distinctly similar, except this one is much shorter and works much better.