The Feckless Wonder (uvula_fr_b4) wrote,
The Feckless Wonder

A perfect spy -- or a perfect bore?

I've been intermittently reading John le Carré's 1986 novel A Perfect Spy since October; I'm up to p. 458 (almost to the end of Chapter 13) in the trade paperback edition (which has eighteen chapters and 590 pgs.), and I am more than ready to be finished with it.

Despite the big-love blurbs from the New York Times and Philip Roth (whose work I've yet to read, astonishingly enough) declaring A Perfect Spy to be either "perhaps [le Carré's] best" or "The best English novel since the war," respectively, I'm far from being besotted with it. Oh, there is some very nice writing in it, but it's not always, or mostly, contiguous; it reads like nothing so much as a 19th century novelist's take on a mild satire of the business of espionage (or, laughably, "intelligence gathering") in the Cold War era of the 1950s through the mid-1980s. (I'm almost reminded of Thackeray in parts.)

It wouldn't surprise me if le Carré wrote this, the most autobiographical of his novels (I suppose some readers heaved a sigh of relief that this distinction didn't belong to The Naïve and Sentimental Lover....), partly as an intellectual exercise, seeking to emulate some belletrist of the past century, to provide some necessary emotional distance between himself and his dodgy-sounding father (who serves as the model for A Perfect Spy's protagonist's father, Rick; the protagonist is saddled with the vainglorious, to an English speaker, first name of Magnus). However, to someone less erudite than le Carré, at a certain point, all the to'ing and fro'ing in the service of a plot of no particular importance eventually palls, and the references to Thomas Mann and Simplicissimus (the latter of which was referred to in at least one of the books of le Carré's Karla trilogy) lose their assurances of a deeper and more profound meaning to be gleaned by the attentive and diligent reader. Slogging through the increasingly diminished joys to be had in A Perfect Spy, one should perhaps be forgiven if the rather unkind phrase "whiskey-dick" comes to mind.

Meh. I'm willing to treat A Perfect Spy as a one-off, but I think I'll take a break from le Carré for a while after I've finally finished it. Haven't read Len Deighton in a few years; I've got the other two Bernard Samson trilogies (the Hook, Line and Sinker and Faith, Hope, and Charity trilogies; the first one is the Game, Set and Match trilogy, followed by the stand-alone prequel novel Winter) to work through, as well as some Harry Palmer books.

Tags: books, espionage, literature
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