Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - John le Carre

One of the few types of modern-ish fiction which truly excites my enthusiasm is the spy thriller.  One of the high water-marks of the genre is "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold", by John le Carre.

Several factors combine to make this a special and memorable read.  The brilliantly conceived and thought-out plot, and the fact that it occasionally eschews standard spy thriller territory, are among these. I had seen the superb film adaptation, starring Richard Burton, before reading the novel. Whether this in itself was an advantage as regards my appreciation and enjoyment of the book, I am not entirely certain....

Here is a link to my brief blog post about the film.....The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (movie)

Certainly, some of the visuals from the movie were imprinted in the forefront of my mind as a I worked my way through the novel, added to some images which my imagination brought forth independently!  In book form, the at times brutal and unscrupulous nature of Cold War espionage came across just as, if not more, acutely.  The prominence given to the Berlin Wall in the story enhances the sense of foreboding and menace.

I think somebody approaching the book first would find it easier to grasp the narrative, and untangle the intrigue.  The descriptive text leaves fewer things "implied" than in celluloid format, and more tasty morsels are left on the table, inviting the reader to discern where things may ultimately be leading. The various themes and sub-texts are developed with some subtlety, and the whole premise of Alec Leamas's mission, and the elaborate plan which accompanied it, gradually become clearer.  The Leamas character itself is given real depth, and pathos, even allowing for the facade which he is instructed to construct by his superiors.

Just as a much as the monochrome of the movie, the prose here amply evokes the grim, cheerless and uneasy atmosphere which we are constantly told was pervasive in the late 50s and early 60s.  Another thing which struck me when reading this novel was the detachment of the masses from those who were nominally assigned to protect them, and from those with lofty if naive ideals.  This is alluded to several times in the text.

I find it difficult to imagine that in its field, "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold" has been surpassed since it was published.  A masterly piece of story-telling.

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