The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Surprisingly enough, I had never read a Le Carré novel until now! I recently borrowed The spy who came from the cold from my son´ bookshelf and read it within a few hours. Although Graham Greene does better in my opinion in exploring those darkest corners of despair and treason, infusing every feeling with a dose of catholic guilt, The spy who came from the cold is a deep and powerful novel (“a novel of the first order” as reported on an early edition cover of the book!). First, the plot is convoluted, while giving a fake impression of being in the know to the reader. The moments where a new truth strikes are like blasts of Arctic air. The story has a glacial and inhuman way of unraveling… Second, the style is superb: the description of the characters is minimalist to a perfect standard. The spies are both cynical and immensely human, the other characters are either more terrifying or doomed from the start. Last, I think the fundamental strength of The spy who came from the cold is that the reflection is about the alienating nature of modern societies, from either side of the Iron Curtain, and of its indifference to individual destinies. Despite facing a whole school (or swamp) of spy novels for at least half a century, and although it relates at many levels with Greene’s (who considered The spy who came from the cold  “The best spy story I have ever read”) and Orwell’s books, this masterpiece stands alone.

5 Responses to “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”

  1. Dan Simpson Says:

    I picked up Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in an airport at the end of last year and enjoyed the hell out of it. They made a movie out of it recently, which is also quite good. I then read the sequel (The Honourable Schoolboy) and was much less impressed (it took a long meandering trip to nowhere).

  2. “The moments where a new truth strike are like blasts of Arctic air.”


    A friend of mine is a Le Carré guy, and I’m throwing Greene books at him; likewise he’s throwing some Le Carré at me, and this will be the first one I read.

    Which Greene novel’s your favorite?

    • Thanks! My Greene’s favourite is not a spy novel stricto sensu: The End of The Affair.

      • You’re kidding– that’s mine, too. The others I’ve read are The Quiet American and The Comedians, and though I enjoyed both, they’re so similar that I wonder if his “spy” novels follow a formula.

      • I really like the Quiet American, again more for philosophical than literary reasons, i.e. the reflection on the long-term impact of naïve politicking… My second preferred Greene’s is Brighton Rock, though, with its degenerate central character Pinkie and the (once again) doomed love (one-sided) relationship. The final sentence of the book is spelling an awful ending without any mention of it. The Penguin edition has a praise from Le Carré, about Greene’s “transcendent universal compassion”. Perfectly set.

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