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Perhaps the best by le Carre. Amazing and seamlessly interwoven story of self, history and nation craft. The smoothness of the language is only matched by a languid stroll of a Royal Bengl Tiger after a kill. Superb.
Where to start? I had read The Pigeon Tunnel, Le Carre's life stories, and been smitten by his father, conman extraordinaire, described as the inspiration for Rick T Pym in A Perfect Spy. Le Carre treats all his characters with utmost respect and love; downright criminals are allowed their own justification, everyone is permitted a degree of mixed thought and dissembling, their private and their public persona need not accord. This thorough analysis of the genesis of a spy and how a basically good man might become a traitor with the assistance of family, friends and his own intelligence bosses is salutary. I am a slow reader and would normally avoid heavy novels, but the beautiful descriptions, the carefully crafted dialogue and the vivid characters kept me with it all through. I think I understand people better now.
I’m nearing the end of The Perfect Spy by John Le Carré and am already mourning the impending end of an amazing book. It’s an old ’un but many say his best. If you’ve read some Le Carré but not this one, I’d highly recommend it…
If you’ve not read any of his books, start with a recent one - A Delicate Truth, which is shorter but exquisitely crafted. And if you like audiobooks, it is a great one as the author narrates it himself and you can quickly tune in to his singular voice (which I used to find quite hard to tune into).
As for The Perfect Spy, as Mark Kermode said about the film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - it’s not about spies. Well it is, but mainly it is about how we invent and reinvent our many selves…
I have seen many adaptations of le Carre stories on tv and film but this is the first one I have read. I know his prose style is admired by many people but I found it not to my taste. I was frequently confused by the way the narrative jumped from present to past and back with little or no warning. It interrupted the flow for me. I found the dialogue a bit confusing too. There were times when I wasn't sure who was speaking and had to backtrack to work it out. I suppose I'm just not tuned in to his style of writing. Maybe if I tried another story I could get a better insight into his work.
The Perfect Spy is a masterpiece of its genre: Le Carre is renowned for his skill and expertise in creating characters and scenarios in this spy-thriller arena and The Perfect Spy is as near perfection as is likely to be achieved for this type of novel. How the Book Awards bodies such as Man-Booker overlooked the Perfect Spy in favour of lesser literary works will always be to their discredit. The high-brow intellectual claims, but in essence snobbishness of the literary elite publishers, agents and critics who annually rejected Le Carre's brilliant work primarily because of their misconceived notion of what constitutes 'popular, contemporary, literary fiction' is something only they will ever understand. The reading public will I am sure regard The Perfect Spy as an outstanding story, a superb narrative exploration of a remarkable character displaying a level of description, analysis and evocative development of themes that may never be matched by any other tome for this genre. No spoilers by me: This Perfect Spy, as any thoughtful reader will grasp from the outset, is anything but that exemplary, supreme Intelligence agent, however, his story encapsulates the intellectual, philosophical and psychological aspects of that unique Cold War creature - the humanity of those that through choice and force of circumstance must bury their true self from everyone about them - theirs is a story we actually can never know, however, Le Carre in this story surely gives us insight to what creates the sort of person for whom that desperately isolated Life becomes a 'normal' existence. Le Carre at his height of his story-telling powers conveys a depth of sensitivity that will affect every reader.
I try not to get influenced by reviews or sound-bites but the cover proclaims this to be Le Carre's finest novel and so being a massive fan of the great mans I couldn't but help get excited. For the first half of this I was underwhelmed. Where was this masterpiece, his finest novel. It wasn't here. As time passed and I kept reading I began to forget about the expectation and enjoyed it for what it was a very good novel and decent by the very high standards set by this fantastic writer. This story unravels slowly, split between the past and the present and as much as I liked the back story it didn't have that profound quality that Le Carre's best writing has. personally I found the back story of Pyms childhood (which gets far more pages than the spy story) didn't really didn't deserve the time that it got, but that is just me and my take on it. Overall, good but by no means great Le Carre.
When Magnus Pym disappears, the British Secret Service and their American counterparts are terrified. Why has Pym gone to ground? Has the long serving diplomat and spy defected? Le Carre weaves the tale of Pym's life from childhood through to adulthood, taking in the relationship he has with his father and how Pym built his life. From his days running errands as a kid, Pym learns how to lie. His father is a conman, and Pym learns from his relentless ability to make people believe in him. He learns how to observe, and we see his personality is built on pleasing others - his "self" is malleable - it is what other people want it to be. I seem to be in the minority, but this is not one of my favourite le Carre's novels. I found it to be overly long, and repetitive. The lead character never had an unexplored thought. I also found the jumping around a bit jarring - not so much the different people and locations but the times when it jumps back to Magnus' childhood. Perhaps it is because it is more autobiographical than the other books, but I really struggled to get into it. I was happy to reach the end.