What I’ve been reading: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John Le Carre

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Modern Classics)

John Le Carre

Bleak, grey and depressing spy story set in the 1960s. Not a martini or Aston Martin in sight.

I’m going to have difficulty with this review, because this book left a bad taste in my mouth. Not through any fault in the style, narrative or story. It was fully the novel’s intent to leave the reader feeling uncomfortable and out in the cold.

This is not a book to read for simple enjoyment. It’s a damn good book, though. Like many of the classic books from the middle of the 20th century – it’s shorty. It gets in, gets the job done, and gets out again. No wasted words. No spare subplots. No padding to produce the publisher’s preferred page count.

The job that this book gets done is to paint a bleak picture of the state of the Cold War in the 1960s and the espionage games that were played across the top of the Berlin Wall. The games are futile. The good guys don’t win because there are no good guys.

All of the characters are so unvarnishedly human that they are hard to like. Even Leamas, that main character, is not very sympathetic, because he is drawn as a man who has been out in the cold (i.e been a spy) so long that you can believe that all human warmth and compassion has been frozen out of him.

I liked: The insight the book provided me into a period in the recent history.
I disliked: The omniscient point of view.
Would I read it again? No. The experience would be different the second time around. The reader’s freshness gives the book its impact.
Would I recommend to a friend? Yes. A necessary classic.
Rating: 3/5

What did you think of this book? Let me know in the comments.

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