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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Paperback – 7 July 2009
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|Paperback, 7 July 2009||
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- Language : English
- Paperback : 214 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143171119
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143171119
- Dimensions : 13.56 x 1.52 x 20.96 cm
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It is the story of Alex Leamas, a senior British agent working in Berlin. When his network is blown and his key agent is killed he returns to a desk job in London. From there he goes rapidly downhill, being dismissed for misconduct before finding a dead end job in a library, assaulting a shop keeper and being sent to prison. On the way he becomes involved with the innocent Liz.
Except that isn't the real story, it is all an elaborate plan for Leamas to defect in order to dicredit a senior figure in East German intelligence.
At the very top level, the Spy Who Came in from the Cold is an intricately plotted espionage thriller full of unexpected plot twists. However, to view it thus is to do it a disservice. To describe it as having a twisting plot suggests a mechanical, formula driven work. In truth it is a novel of subtle ambiguity which feels like walking through fog, which occasionally clears, giving a different perspective on the story.
To describe it as a thriller suggests good guys and bad guys fighting their way to a clear denouement. In fact it is a book painted in shades of moral grey. All of the characters, east and west, are human, flawed,and utterly believable. The core of the book is a single moral question. Can the good fight be fought using the tools of darkness. It is the same theme as Le Carre returns to in Smiley's people.
This is marketed as the third Smiley novel, but in truth he barely features, although his influence is all pervasive.
Here we meet Alec Leamus, who losing his best intelligence source from East Germany is called back to the Circus. Whilst there a plot is created to what looks like bring down the serving head of the East German Secret Service. Thus Leamus takes to his new role, whilst all hope that things will go according to plan.
We thus read of what happens next, and as it starts to dawn on Alec, perhaps he is in way above his head with subtleties appearing and other inconsistencies in the plot. Le Carré is clever here in that although this seems to be an easy read there is a lot of complexity to the story, as he reveals only bits of the plan as we go along, leaving us as much in the dark as Leamus. This works very well as it gives us an appreciation and feel for the paranoia and unease that you would expect from such a situation, when you start to discover that what you think is planned isn’t quite the whole story.
Raising the question of whether the good guys should behave in a much better and grander way than the bad guys, this is still something that is discussed continually and no doubt will be for evermore. It is given then a feeling of authenticity and becomes believable as this is a tale not of black and white, but of grey, and let’s face it there are lots of things that fall into a grey murky world all around us.
In all then this is always a joy to read, showing the complexities, morals and ethics that are raised in something like Intelligence work and wars, and the price that has to be paid. This is then quite deep and thoughtful and would probably make a good choice for book groups.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is John Le Carre’s 1963 novel about the Cold War, as fought by the secret services of Britain on one side, East Germany and Russia on the other. Well, I talk of sides, but that isn’t really accurate. You’d think it would be clear which side was which, seeing as there’s a great big Berlin Wall between them, topped with barbed wire, swept by search lights, guarded by soldiers. Ironically, the book shows that one side is much the same as the other. It is difficult to work out who is working for whom. Spies double cross their governments, though that treachery might be loyal service in disguise. Both sides use the same ruthless methods.
There is a curious use of the word “same” in the novel. It crops up a lot. Have a look at page 12 - when Control is talking to our world-weary spy protagonist, Alec Leamas. The word “same” appears nine times. And then through the book, it’s there repeatedly - 57 times in all. I counted them! Same even appears on the very last page, referring to steps on a ladder over the Berlin Wall. Same, same, same. That got me thinking - when we find the same cold on both sides of the wall, a reader could be forgiven for thinking that the cold is everywhere, and there is no coming in from it.
But there is warmth in the book, personified in certain individuals, particularly in the figure of Liz Gold, a lovely, caring women Alec Leamas meets while working in a library. She is nurturing, sensible and kind, the moral compass of the book really. Consider Elizabeth Gold’s name. Gold has all sorts of positive connotations of warmth and happiness. Then again, don’t you think gold sounds so much like cold? It’s sounds almost the SAME! If the cold is everywhere, maybe the warm is too.
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is a fascinating book, a compelling spy story hiding all sorts of subtlety, like a cold war cypher. It is certainly true that readers can make a pessimistic interpretation. John Le Carre, by all accounts was himself a pessimistic and troubled man. Nevertheless, there is something in his book, a suggestion that while we are out in the cold with no possible hope of relief, warmth is never far away.
George Smiley was introduced in Call for the Dead in 1961. He returned in 1962 in A Murder of Quality, his only story set outside the intelligence community. Then, in 1963, comes the masterpiece: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold which remains the best spy story I have ever read (I agree with Graham Greene). It is a recognition of the quality of Le Carré’s writing that I could remember the book so well, almost quoting some passages verbatim.
The story relates a complicated act of deadly triple-bluff created by the British Secret Service against its enemies in the German Democratic Republic, the Abteilung. Alec Leamas is at the centre of the plot - believes he is on a clever undercover mission of revenge but clever British brains have other motives… Le Carré laces the plot with multifarious complexities as Leamas comes to realise that he has been used by his own side - fooled, manipulated and misinformed. Leamas has travelled deep into the heart of Communist Germany, ostensibly to betray his country. Smiley tries to help the woman, Liz Gold, that Leamas has befriended with devastating consequences…
The Spy… is a dark, brutal, totally believable tale of espionage during the Cold War. Spies, summed up by Leamas to Liz Gold: ”What do you think spies are: priests, saints and martyrs? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, traitors too, yes; pansies, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives. Do you think they sit like monks in London balancing the rights and wrongs…” This is a terminally fatigued Alec Leamas and the ending of the story still leaves me devastated.