I’m a big fan of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series, and John le Carre has been on my list for a very long time now, so I decided to start with this one. Le Carre seems to be immensely popular and a prolific writer, but I’m afraid I couldn’t really take to this book as much as I wanted to.
Alec Leamas is a British Intelligence agent ready to retire (come in from the cold), but his superiors think otherwise, and so he is sent on one last mission to expose and exact revenge from an old and deadly enemy. The book was published and is set in the Cold War era of the 1960s, and this, unexpectedly, was a bit of a problem, in that I don’t know much about the Cold War, and le Carre clearly expects his reader to go in with full knowledge of all the situations and terminologies prevalent then. For example, I had no idea what the Iron Curtain means, or how the Berlin Wall impacted German politics back then, and it gets a bit irritating when you have to look up something on Wikipedia every few pages.
I didn’t like his writing style much either (ok, this is where le Carre fans start sharpening their swords); the language is undoubtedly good, but the narration feels very cold and impersonal, as if the author couldn’t care less what happens to Leamas (which, coincidentally, is exactly what I was feeling by the end), or even the girl, Liz, who gets entangled with him. I like and expect a bit of melodrama now and then, especially in spy novels, but there is nothing in the writing here that is dramatic (I suppose this is because this story is much more realistic, but I’ve begun to realize I’m not a big fan of realism).
Another problem I had was with the protagonist. I simply couldn’t relate to Leamas; he is, like the narrative, too cold and weird, especially in his dealings with the supposed girlfriend. Are spies really allowed to fall in love or lust as easily as all that? Doesn’t that endanger the lover and others around them? None of these are concerns our Leamas busies himself with, since the girl is just a plot point anyway.
I really liked the twist near the end though; it certainly upped the thrill quotient a bit, and that is quite a lot in a story which is mostly dreary and at best, sometimes eyebrow-raising. I’m disappointed this didn’t work out for me; I was really looking forward to reading his whole spy collection. It will probably appeal to realists and history and Cold War fans though, so forgive me le Carre fans, and if there is anyone else who wasn’t very impressed with this one, please comment below, I don’t want to be forever alone.. 😛
P.S. My twitter username is sindbadrose, in case anybody wants to take the hint.. 😛