The man who came in from reading Fred Vargas
You know the history I mean, don't you? The history of the fictional spy, which meant, at that time, James Bond. Le Carré's protagonist, Alec Leamas, is an anti-Bond. His life, according to the article to which I link above, "is far from the glamour of James Bond's world: he has a love affair with a lonely, unpaid librarian, not with a fashion model."
Then there's that other history, that of the Cold War, of us vs. them, with its harsh symbol of division, the Berlin Wall. And us vs. them, Le Carré tells us, is decidedly not good vs. evil. It was probably easy to call the book a classic back in 1963, and the dust jacket of my handsome old hardback edition trots out a lineup of superstar blurbsters: Daphne du Maurier, Alec Waugh, J.B. Priestley and Graham Greene, the last of whom called the book "the best spy story I have ever read."
But that was then; this is now. How does the book's laying bare of the amorality of espionage hold up today? Pretty well, even when the prose seems tendentious by current standards:
"Ashe, Kiever, Peters; that was a progression on quality, in authority, which to Leamas was axiomatic of the hierarchy of an intelligence network. It was also, he suspected, a progression in ideology. Ashe the mercenary, Kiever the fellow traveler, and now Peters, for whom the ends and the means were identical."I'll report back later on a bit of plot manipulation that just might be shocking or even offensive, depending on the next thirty or so pages. In the meantime, sit back and reflect on the vanished days of the rivalry between Russia and the West, that golden era of international spying.
Say, who was that Alexander Litvinenko guy, anyway?
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
John Le Carre