Book Review: “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John Le’Carre (1963)

What I love about paper-books is that when I underline or highlight a favorite portion from a book, the mark I make is there to stay. I love buying used books to see what struck some previous reader’s fancy, and I love going through my own read-books to see what struck my own fancy from whenever I had read that book last. Sadly, for The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, I did not read the book on paper but rather on my Kindle, shared between two devices. As a result of changing my memory options on my phone from “device” to “SD card,” I lost all the progress I had made in this book, including my highlights and notes. Thus, the effort I put into marking the thing up has been lost, and I am not about to go back and read through it all again, because flipping through “pages” is another impossible failure of the electronic book. Oh! what a future our children must face…

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was a pleasant read and one to which my brain was well suited at the time of reading. I accomplished most of my reading while walking a friend’s dog at night (hence the Kindle version on my phone). It was cold, I was alone besides the constantly fighting brute at the end of the leash (a German shepherd, no less), and I had been delving into spy facts on my own time besides. Add to these that I am fascinated by today’s many forms of Communism evidencing themselves in a multitude of bureaucratic types, as well as the fact that I had just seen Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a film based on another Le’Carre novel, and you can tell why this book fit me so well.

The story of Leamas is an uncommon one in a spy thriller (though perhaps not for LeCarre), for the Brit has seemingly worn out his days as an effective spy and is tossed aside by his Circus as a once-useful-but-now-aging piece of baggage. Where he goes from there upon forced retirement or what he does besides depends on how far he can stretch his measly severance, and thus few of his compatriots are terribly shocked when this once-respectable man falls into the ditches of poverty and alcoholism. Among those who cast a curious glance, however, are the enemy, thus establishing the instability that truly is the plot of this short book. Spoilers aside, I myself was not entirely sure of what the next page held with regards to truth or deception, and I really quite enjoyed the rich personal history Le’Carre developed for his otherwise unexciting Leamas.

Admittedly without much depth, this review can only establish that The Spy Who Came in from the Cold stood up to the hype that its “modern classic” status suggests. This book challenges one’s ethics in much the same way that the ethics of spies and patriots on both sides of the Cold War were undoubtedly challenged, for in the world of espionage,  deception is expected and honesty is questionable. If you are up for a relatively slow-moving yet exciting spy tale, I would recommend this book. Read it on paper, though, and be sure to carry a highlighter. Le’Carr’s got some lines worth remembering (though my brain forgot to do the remembering for me).

©2013 E.T.

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2 Responses to Book Review: “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” by John Le’Carre (1963)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “The House on Garibaldi Street” by Isser Harel (1975) | Elliot's Blog

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