Thursday, June 17, 2010

Reader's Diary #620- John le Carré: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

I can count on one hand the number of spy novels I've read in my life. It's never been a real interest of mine. Believe it or not, I only saw my first James Bond movie this past year. I began with Casino Royale and was pleasantly surprised. Then I made sure to watch versions with the other actors. I made it through Connery, Moore, and Brosnan and by that time I'd gone back to not being interested.

Still, I've long been curious about John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Time listed it among its All-Time 100 Novels, Esquire considered it one the 75 books every man should read, and Publisher's Weekly called it the best spy novel of all time. Could this be the spy novel that finally turned me onto the genre?

Short answer? No.

Long answer: I enjoyed parts but others I found tedious. I found it disjointed, sometimes claiming to be a psychological expose, sometimes a action-packed thriller, and other times a courtroom drama. Not that a good book couldn't contain all elements of such genres, but I don't think le Carré strung them together well. You could almost pinpoint the moments when it switched.

Though the transitions weren't smooth, I didn't mind the sections individually. I thought the idea of a spy being washed up and insecure was a nice bit of deconstruction, reminding me what the Watchmen did to the superhero genre. A spy who questions who he is and the role he plays in society? I like that. Let's face it. Bond is just too cocky.

The thriller sequences were probably my least favourite, but I admit having great difficulty following the plot. It's hard to root for anyone when you're not entirely sure who the bad guys are.

Then there was the courtroom scene, or more of a trial by panel actually, where the plot became clearer and even interesting.

All in all, I'd consider it a passable book, but I'm wasn't a fan of spy lit and it didn't change your mind.


Chrisbookarama said...

Reading this book did not make me want to read anything else by le Carre. Not a spy lit fan.

John Mutford said...

Chris: If my memory serves me, I believe your review was even less positive than mine. I tried to find a link to add here, but couldn't. Could you leave one?

Michele said...

I guess I'm the odd-person out here. I absolutely love John le Carre, but if pressed for a reason, I probably couldn't tell you exactly why, except to say that every once in a great while I do enjoy a Brit spy novel. I haven't latched on to any American spy novels as of yet, but someday I would like to try the Jason Bourne series (never saw the movies, but that's because I always planned to read the books). I so have all of the Smiley books and love their quirkiness. But I have to be in the right mood. ;)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold many years ago, for the same reason that you did. I thought that I really should.

I don't remember a single thing about it, so I am going to say that the genre is lost upon me.

Kate said...

I loved the only book by Le Carre that I have read - The Constant Gardener. (Possibly because it touched on several of my passions; plus I was living in the part of the world where it is set while reading it.) But I have no interest in spy novels (or films - I have yet to stay awake through an entire Bond film), so I plan on giving this one a miss.