The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

It's not my intention to create a hype given that the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about to be shown in the UK this month and the rest of the world probably later. The reading world is already full of "hype" and I don't want to desecrate Le Carre's work because of these silly "hypes." For the first place, Tinker Tailor may not be released in movie theaters here in the Philippines and I just want to read a Le Carre book imprisoned earlier on my shelf for a very long time and maybe reading it is better than leaving it to collect dusts (or termites) and remain unread.

For the record I have 3 initial Le Carre reads and in order, they are "The Tailor of Panama," "Single & Single," and "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." I enjoyed them all. Prior to this I also dabbled into Tom Clancy's world of military intrigues; "The Hunt for Red October," "Politika," and "Patriot Games." Last year, I enjoyed Tim Powers' uber-hybrid story "Declare" (hybrid in the sense that it was a cross-genre between territories of historical fiction, sci fi, dark fantasy, and espionage). Furthermore, six years ago I felt the chill by the story of a saboteur-gone-wrong Verloc in Joseph Conrad's psychological thriller "The Secret Agent."

In all of these initial experiences within the world of espionage fiction and seeing how readers today love popular fiction, I drew a hypothesis that there can only be two kinds of a spy novel: the first kind bores you to death because the politics are realistic (if not allusive), and the second one entertained you to life because of cheap thrills, gadgets, and naked chicks. 

This made Le Carre novels apparently boring to younger readers and Ian Fleming's, commercially viable to novice readers. Nothing much to blame, politics (or history) is exclusive only for the mature readers.

But now that I am an 'old' reader it's quiet different. Global politics did not bore me anymore, it was very informative and it opened my eye. The chick was never dumb though simple, still you would want to fall for. There were action scenes but they were not the center of the novel. The center of the novel was about this dark mantra--the philosophy of any professional espionage work. This mantra states that in the real world there is no such thing as "black and white." Always been and always will be. Grey areas will never go and nothing can change that.

The most important attribute of this novel is its unpredictability--in a very good and thrilling way. Originally published in 1963, the setting is in the 1950's revolving on the post WWII espionage and counter-espionage conflicts between the communist East Germany and the monarchic Great Britain. It was a classic spy war, an unseen showdown between the forces of Abteilung and agents of the Circus. The Berlin Wall still exists here and I like it when Le Carre started the story there, and also ended it all there. Perfectly symbolic. A good closure, a return to zero when you draw that proverbial, circular line. And you will enjoy this in a light reading pace of 223 pages.
Now I know why this book is heavily regarded as the top espionage novel of the past century and why Time Magazine inducted this thriller in its list of 100 Best Novels of the modern era.

Le Carre's credibility as a former member of Her Majesty's Secret Service--the MI6 is unquestionable and his deep insight into the complex world (or abyss?) of espionage is unfathomable. This is perhaps, his signature book but we hope for more as long as he still writes realistic and complex stories highly relevant through the ages. That makes a novel classic.

Unforgettable Lines:

"That's because you don't want to think, you don't dare! There's some poison in your mind, some hate. You're a fanatic, Alec, I know you are, but I dont know what about. You're a fanatic who doesn't want to convert people, and that's a dangerous thing. You're like a man who's...sworn vengeance or something."  
page 35

Sometimes he thought of Liz. He would direct his mind toward her briefly like the shutter of a camera, recall for a moment the soft-hard touch of her long body, then put her from his memory. Leamas was not a man accustomed to living on dreams.  
page 43

He was contemptuous of his cellmates, and they hated him. They hated him because he succeeded in being what each in his heart longed to be: a mystery. 
page 43

"I am a worker," the woman replied acidly. "The concept of brain workers as a higher category must be destroyed. There are no categories, only workers; no antithesis between physical and mental labor. Haven't you read Lenin?" 
"Then the people in this prison are intellectuals?"
The woman smiled. "Yes," she said, "they are reactionaries who call themselves progressive: they defend the individual against the state."
page 204

Genre: Espionage Fiction
Rating: 5 blistering sentry rounds out of 5

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