The Ipcress File

The Ipcress File Len Deighton S Classic First Novel, Whose Protagonist Is A Nameless Spy Later Christened Harry Palmer And Made Famous Worldwide In The Iconic s Film Starring Michael Caine The Ipcress File Was Not Only Len Deighton S First Novel, It Was His First Bestseller And The Book That Broke The Mould Of Thriller WritingFor The Working Class Narrator, An Apparently Straightforward Mission To Find A Missing Biochemist Becomes A Journey To The Heart Of A Dark And Deadly ConspiracyThe Film Of The Ipcress File Gave Michael Caine One Of His First And Still Most Celebrated Starring Roles, While The Novel Itself Has Become A Classic

Deighton was born in Marylebone, London, in 1929 His father was a chauffeur and mechanic, and his mother was a part time cook After leaving school, Deighton worked as a railway clerk before performing his National Service, which he spent as a photographer for the Royal Air Force s Special Investigation Branch After discharge from the RAF, he studied at St Martin s School of Art in London in

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  • Paperback
  • 342 pages
  • The Ipcress File
  • Len Deighton
  • English
  • 08 February 2018
  • 9780586026199

10 thoughts on “The Ipcress File

  1. says:

    Weapons aren t terrible, I said Areoplanes full of passengers to Paris, bombs full of insecticide, cannons with a man inside at a circus these aren t terrible But a vase of roses in the hands of a man of evil intent is a murder weapon Michael Caine is Harry Palmer.The protagonist of this novel is nameless Though there is a moment in the novel when someone whispers Hello Harry Now my name isn t Harry, but in this business it s hard to remember whether it ever had been When the producers and directors met with Michael Caine about making the movie version they decided that they had to refer to the protagonist by some sort of name so Caine christened him Harry Palmer Later in this series of novels Harry is referred to as Charles Neither of them are of course his real name We know that he used to work in military intelligence, but has recently been put in charge of a small agency called WOOC P which is so secret that no one seems to even know what the acronym stands for He has a very efficient secretary suffering benefiting from OCD named Alice who is always trying to get him to be tidy with his files He is always teasing her with jibs like Your seams are crooked He requisitions an attractive female assistant, since Alice doesn t seem to find him even remotely attractive, and no one is amazed than he is when she shows up She was wearing that little black sleeveless dress that every woman has in reserve for cocktail parties, funerals and first nights Her slim white arms shone against the dull material, and her hands were long and slender, the nails cut short and varnished in a natural colour I watched her even, very white teeth bite into the croissant She could have been the top kick in the Bolshoi, Sweden s first woman ship s captain, private secretary to Chou En lai, or Sammy Davis s press agent The lovely Sue Lloyd is Jean in the movie version I have such fond memories of watching her star on the TV series The Baron with Steve Forrest.Her name is Jean Tonnesson and she falls for Harry s snarky charm and is soon providing him with stimulation like a secretary on Mad Man He might be swapping fluids with her, but he still doesn t trust her There is something not to be fully understood about her and Harry has a natural distrust of everything Harry has a daily rondevu in a seedy London business to fetch a particular envelope He reseals the money and fake passports into another envelope and mails it to himself again He is prepared for something to go disastrously wrong every day It doesn t take much to make the daily round with one s employer work smoothly A couple of yessirs when you know that not on your life is the thing to say A few expressions of doubt about things you ve spent your life perfecting Forgetting to make use of the information that negates his hastily formed by deliciously convenient theories It doesn t take much, but it takes about 98.5 per cent than I ve ever considered giving In other words Harry is a complete pain in the ass He is invited to attend an atomic bomb weapons test event by the US government on an atoll in the Pacific Harry is kidnapped and subjected to cold war brainwashing which was of particular interest to the author Len Deighton When he escapes instead of finding himself in some desert hellhole, he discovers that he is within walking distance of London It seems there has been a double cross or a triple cross or maybe just your standard diabolical attempt to infiltrate and take over the British government Someone is kidnapping top level scientists and brainwashing them But to what end And why attempt to brainwash poor Harry Len Deighton pulled that rug off his head and pulled it over all our eyes.It is all rather confusing In fact the whole plot of the novel is completely unfathomable When Len Deighton approached Ian Fleming s publisher they asked him to simplify the plot and bring it back He refused and took the book to a rival publisher who accepted the novel as written The editor over there must have been cockeyed, cross eyed, inebriated, or merely brilliant because the book though proving so puzzling to readers somehow became a huge success Kingsley Amis famously weighed in with it is actually quite good if you stop worrying about what s going on.And that is the key, when I finally let go and quit trying to figure out exactly what was going on I started to really enjoy the writing Deighton expects a lot of his readers which is probably why his novels have fallen out of favor these days The asides though witty are reasonably obscure It is all lost in translation from the mind of Deighton into English I m sure this book made perfect sense to him or it is all one elaborate ruse on the reading public.At the beginning of many of the chapters Deighton would put a horoscope that loosely reflected the contents of the chapter Aquarius Jan 20 Feb 19 A good week for your hobbies and romance, but you can expect some difficulties with evening arrangements Forthright talking may well clear the air Maybe the cipher for the plot resides in the horoscopes Regardless of being befuddled for most of the book I ended up absolutely enjoying the ride The wit, the charm, and the snarky irreverent behavior of Harry kept the pages turning and a smile on my face Sometimes we just have to let go of the rigid confines of a definable plot.I have the 1965 film on order which I hear is excellent and not confusing at all I really can t recommend this book except to the hardiest of Cold War fans I find it utterly fascinating that the British public made this book a bestseller and Deighton a literary star In for a penny in for a pound I m definitely reading the second book in The Secret File series called Horse Under Water Maybe Deighton will start to make sense or I will just have to accept that sometimes the insensible can still be entertaining.If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at

  2. says:

    What chance did I stand between the Communists on one side and the Establishment on the other Len Deighton s first novel features the unnamed spy, re christened Harry Palmer in the film version played by Michael Caine However, in this book we never learn the name of the unnamed narrator, who delivers his report on, the IPCRESS affair, to the Minister of Defence He has been transferred from military intelligence to WOOC P a small, civilian intelligence agency, reporting to the British Cabinet directly and headed by Dalby A number of scientists have been kidnapped and an intelligence broker, code named, Jay, is suspected of being involved in passing those snatched to the Soviets Unlike previous spies, our hero admits that, when told to meet with Jay and secure the release of a scientist, known as, Raven, he suddenly felt very small and young and called upon to do something that I wasn t sure I could manage The spies in this novel are involved in exciting escapades, but they also worry about back pay, expenses and are never quite sure who to trust Our narrator is very aware of his background and class plays a huge part in this novel This is gritty, un romantic stuff, with seedy clubs and coffee houses as the settings of many scenes, rather than exotic locations although he does see action outside the UK Still, there is certainly a lack of support and he is aware that, should anything go wrong, rather than coming up with some way to whisk him out of trouble, Dalby will deny all knowledge of what he is talking about Although this novel was an instant success when it was first published, I found it something of a difficult read It was slow and, I felt, a little dry Still, it is an important read, which presented a much realistic view of the Secret Service than the recently published Bond novels and led to other, similar spy books in the genre.

  3. says:

    The Ipcress File is one of those novels that, burnished by the passage of time and forgetfulness, is now considered to be a classic in its genre It was supposedly quite the trendsetter back in 1962, taking on the themes of organizational betrayal using the voice of a working class spy who has a chip on his shoulder regarding his betters In the cold light of reappraisal, however, it doesn t live up to its reputation.The setup a semi unnamed civil servant spy referred to once as Harry has to chase down the disappearances of several British defense scientists, an investigation that quickly turns into a hairball that spans half the world and sees Our Hero framed for treason Along the way, Our Hero discomfits a number of upper class twits, crosses paths with what we d now call a fixer who works multiple sides at once, and puts the moves on his comely assistant who happens to be as useful as she is decorative.Deighton was never a spy, but rather a 1950s illustrator and ad man As a result, his settings and descriptions of characters are involved and painterly than is usually the case you ll never want for knowing what his cast and sets look like The dialog is very of the moment, and Our Hero has a smart mouth on him This is the good part.The not so good This was Deighton s first novel the one that launched him into the top ranks of spy and war thriller writers and it shows The plot wanders off into side streets and gets distracted by shiny things, usually with no real urgency behind it A long detour to a Pacific atoll destined to be an American atomic testing site feels like a bid to grab onto a trendy exotic setting as it would ve been back then rather than something that actually needed to happen there For something billed as a thriller, there are as usual for thrillers of the period remarkably few thrills, while the spycraft, atmosphere and intrigue aren t up to LeCarre standards Even Our Hero s relentless smart assery wears after a while One further caution, especially for American readers if you re not deeply steeped in late 1950s early 1960s British popular culture, you re going to be reading this with Wikipedia permanently open by your side All these issues together left me wondering one thing upon re reading this novel after mumble years Is that it This is the classic spy novel Really These days, our reactions to the novel The Ipcress File are most likely colored by the classic film The Ipcress File and Michael Caine s emblematic star turn as Harry Palmer This may be a case of the film being better than the book that inspired it If you choose to read The Ipcress File today, especially if you re drunk deeply from the well of LeCarre, be prepared to be let down It s like taking a time machine ride and instead of attending the Battle of Gettysburg or MLK s I Have a Dream speech, you wind up at a dinner party with Millard Fill Interesting, no doubt, but not at all what you were hoping for.

  4. says:

    This has been praised as a literary thriller that helped shape the espionage thriller genre, and I ve seen Deighton compared to Dickens, contrasted favorably to Ian Fleming.Frankly, this struck me as rather juvenile Unlike Fleming, Deighton doesn t have a background in intelligence, and the book never struck me as plausible It s Get Smart than Graham Greene or John LeCarre or even Tom Clancy This is Len Deighton s first novel before this he had been working as an illustrator according to his introduction and it shows An illustrator as opposed to an artist has to pretty much cover the page His descriptions are overwritten engorged with random elements rather than carefully chosen telling details The narration is even crowded with intrusive footnotes Set in the early sixties at the height of the cold war, the story is told in a conversational and often sarcastic voice by the unnamed narrator, a British intelligence officer First person usually allows for a feeling of intimacy and a crisp point of view Yet this narration was so rambling and confusing I d go over passages twice to try to get what was going on and failing And given what I ve read in the other reviews, I m not the only reader confused A slog to read and not enough payoff to make the difficulties worth it.

  5. says:

    This is Len Deighton debut written in 62The anonymous narrator describes a certain operation to a gov official and to us readers it looks like a long letter with footnotes and appendices The unnamed narrators who in popular culture became Michael Caine and his name was Harry in the movie, but in the novel he was called Harry in one page and that was the only clue that Harry could be his name He is the antithesis of James Bond, down to earth and real the struggle is real for him. no flashy cars and rich food and gorgeous femme fatale. he is a person with a mission to find out what is happening to a bunch of scientist who are defecting to the Eastern Bloc.

  6. says:

    It s hard to believe this was Deighton s first book Had I written something as clever, sarcastic, and thrilling as this, I would have stopped there, and admired myself in the mirror for a decade Good thing Len didn t this book gets scrambled at the end By contrast, by the time he hit his stride in the three Bernard Sampson trilogies, there wasn t a hair out of place Deighton didn t go to Eton he s not an Oxbridge grad But he read like a madman, had some Toff friends, and must have the retention of a sponge This book is the anti Bond, in the same way the Samson series is the anti Le Carr Which makes it well worth admiring in front of a mirror.

  7. says:

    I really, really wanted to enjoy this and maybe the fault was partly my own for thinking it was going to be one of those novels I could read in 20 minute snatches on my daily commute, but despite its relatively short length, I just found it maddeningly difficult to follow The tone is basically Noir filtered through the spy thriller with a little dash of The Man Who Was Thursday surrealism with the result that it had one of those hyper dense narratives, full of non sequiturs, one liners and sudden plot shifts, that means if your mind wanders for a line or two, suddenly you find yourself desperately skipping back pages trying to figure out what is going on Don t get me wrong I ve read and enjoyed Noir fiction in the past and I understand that sometimes with the genre it s about soaking up the atmosphere of the text rather than trying to puzzle out every nuance of the plot that way lies madness , but nevertheless I did feel The Ipcress File ramped up the convoluted narrative to ridiculous levels I was just thankful that the plot of the rest of the novel was explained in the final chapter and it still had me flipping back, going Who s doing the WHAT now , otherwise I would have been entirely lost.Still though I can understand why this is seen as such a canonical work and I will give it the benefit of the doubt because I reckon it is one of those novels that you have to read in as close as one sitting as possible to get the most out of it I will probably give it another go at some point.

  8. says:

    Why did it take me so long The Ipcress File 1962 was Len Deighton s first novel and I believe he was trying to provide a realistic depiction of spying than Ian Fleming s Bond books, which he complained were too implausible He succeeded, and how It s bleak and cynical, and most notably is rooted in the day to day bureaucracy of running a department which makes it much richer and interesting than my inaccurate classification It is, in short, the anti Bond Len Deighton nailed the life of the spy, especially the loneliness and suspicion His descriptions of London are spot on, and really evocative Factor in his imaginative use of words, his emphasis on bureaucracy, his preoccupation with class and hierachy, and it s no wonder that he is held in such high esteem.It s a confusing plot however the pleasure is in the writing As I knew the rough story I was able to focus on the writing and the detail which is where the pleasure of this novel really lies Here s one minor example to illustrate the interesting and perceptive style Murray had not liked the peacetime army and it was understandable, there was no place in it for a man with a paperback edition of Kierkegaard in his pocket The Sergeants tried to talk like officers and the officers like gentlemen, he said The mess was full of men who would sit in a cinema all the weekend and come back with stories about house parties on the river.I look forward to reading by Len Deighton4 5The blurb Len Deighton s classic first novel, whose protagonist is a nameless spy later christened Harry Palmer and made famous worldwide in the iconic 1960s film starring Michael Caine.The Ipcress File was not only Len Deighton s first novel, it was his first bestseller and the book that broke the mould of thriller writing.For the working class narrator, an apparently straightforward mission to find a missing biochemist becomes a journey to the heart of a dark and deadly conspiracy.The film of The Ipcress File gave Michael Caine one of his first and still most celebrated starring roles, while the novel itself has become a classic.

  9. says:

    Hmmmmmmm I was looking forward to this book I ve long been a fan of the Michael Caine movie based on this novel, and having read the Bond books a couple of years ago and working through the Smiley novels this year, I was intrigued to see where the unnamed spy of Deighton s books fitted in to the triumvirate.And unfortunately I was disappointed I found this the least enjoyable of the three in both style and content In content it doesn t have the glamourously comic book style jetsetting of Bond, nor the uncannily believable grey everyday matter of fact detail punctuated by intense violence of Le Carre s Smiley books Instead we have a sexist, glorified police officer with an un expanded upon class based chip on his shoulder who just wanders about not doing a lot The writing style doesn t have Flemming s over the top flamboyance or Le Carre s Austen like calm, but instead uses a 40s style noir method of writing that, for me, grated intensely I couldn t read it without an american accent in my head and then I kept getting reminded that he was from Burnley even though nothing in the book backed that up apart from his saying he was from Burnley and he didn t like posh blokes There s also absolutely no explanation as to why he writes speaks like a bad Raymond Chandler why does he talk constantly like an American Private Eye from the 1940s I have no idea It must have sounded as utterly incongruous in the early 60s, just as it does now And then Deighton spends the last two chapters with the two protagonists sitting down explaining what s happened, because he d done such a bad job at telling the story through the previous 250 pages.Not particularly recommended This is definitely one case in which the movie is a vast improvement on the book.

  10. says:

    Well that was a slow read One of the most famous spy novels and with good reason, a dense confusing read that requires a lot of focus.To rush this is to do it a dis service, so take time and enjoy.Some books require a different approach, shall we say, a new self discipline There are many people here and who I know on a day to day social basis who read a book from cover to cover but fail to acknowledge the contents It almost seems that they need to serve a purpose, I have read this, therefore I am in Take this at a slower pace and you will be rewarded.

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