I think it s instructive to read one of Graham Greene s spy novels back to back with one of John le Carre s because, surprisingly, it s instantly clear that le Carre is the better writer It s not just his plotting, which is always tight and suspenseful it s the actual strength of his writing the descriptions of places, the dialogues, the constructions of his wounded and noble characters One concern I had with this book was that it was written in 1989 after the golden age of the Cold War, which was a time that Le Carre shined as an espionage author But that concern was unfounded if anything, he s better in the age of glasnost, with all its moral vagary and shifting alliances And what s , he has learned to edit himself this book weighs in at a slender 340 pages, compared to 600 for most of the Smiley novels. John Le Carre S Bestselling Classic Is A Timeless Spy Thriller About The Iron Curtain And The Tense Relationship Between Great Britain And RussiaJohn Le Carr Has Earned Worldwide Acclaim With Extraordinary Spy Novels, Including The Russia House, An Unequivocal Classic Navigating Readers Through The Shadow Worlds Of International Espionage With Critical Knowledge Culled From His Years In British Intelligence, Le Carr Tracks The Dark And Devastating Trail Of A Document That Could Profoundly Alter The Course Of World Events In Moscow, A Sheaf Of Military Secrets Changes Hands If It Arrives At Its Destination, And If Its Import Is Understood, The Consequences Could Be Cataclysmic Along The Way It Has An Explosive Impact On The Lives Of Three People A Soviet Physicist Burdened With Secrets A Beautiful Young Russian Woman To Whom The Papers Are Entrusted And Barley Blair, A Bewildered English Publisher Pressed Into Service By British Intelligence To Ferret Out The Document S Source A Magnificent Story Of Love, Betrayal, And Courage, The Russia House Catches History In The Act For As The Iron Curtain Begins To Rust And Crumble, Blair Is Left To Sound A Battle Cry That May Fall On Deaf Ears The old isms were dead, the contest between Communism and capitalism had ended in a wet whimper Its rhetoric had fled underground into the secret chambers of the grey men, who were still dancing away long after the music had ended I love The Russia House I love the anger the way the novel seems to capture all the threads that le Carr had woven in most all of his cold war novels and noose both sides I love it for its humanity In some ways it reminded me of Orwell s Nineteen Eighty Four with the bureaucracies grey men of both sides of the Cold War desperate to continue the fight, desperate for an enemy, desperate for perpetual fear for the greater good While I was knocked over by Orwell s GREAT novel, I never cared for Winston Smith quite the same way I cared for Scott Blair Le Carr s genius is making you absolutely love his sinners and fear his saints, and then making you forget which is which and who is who The West is mirrored by the East We have become what we feared, what we fought Ultimately, le Carr s characters become like family Yes, they are flawed Yes, they are giants Yes, they are pettyand, utimately they are you. As in most of John le Carr s novels, the characters take center stage, driving the novel forwards, while the plot remains insidiously in the background, though nonetheless potent This approach emphasizes that whatever happens depends on the personalities and behaviors of the players remove them and nothing happens This is the exceptional creative power of this author.In many of his earlier works, le Carr is sending a message, i.e that espionage is a game that exists only for the sake of playing it, while national security poses as a flimsy excuse Nowhere is this message clearer than in this book Secrets about the other side s capacity for destruction serves only as a pretext for deception in playing the game one against the other But our heroes Barley and Katya, used as pawns in the game, fall in love, throwing a spanner in the works, and human spirit triumphs in the final outcome For Barley, governments are not the only ones who can manipulate and betray, and some things are important than the games that spies play with others lives The ending is simply brilliant, and makes this book a masterpiece.It is interesting to note that the book reflects true life incidents, the notion that the Soviet Union was an overrated adversary is supported by KGB agents who were questioned in Langley after the breakup of the Soviet Union by the CIA.In some ways, the plot elements are reminiscent of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold a book I haven t read yet, but plan to include on my reading list.However, le Carr is not for everyone, as some may feel a stuffiness to his writing, and his examination of social class, which is usually included in the background of his characters is distinctly British, and may not be appreciated by outsiders. I understood what was going on the entire time That s a big deal for me when it comes to John le Carr s books Of course, what that really means is that The Russia House isn t as devilishly complicated as some of the author s other works Definitely not that I m getting smarter, so put that right out of your mind For me this book had a slow start, so it took a bit to get into And towards the climax of the story it seemed like it got a bit muddled.What I enjoyed most about this work was that it was set in the world of publishing during Peristrokia And the reader got a small insight to what Western publishers had to do to have their books published during the end of the Soviet Era.And yes, the spycraft story line in this story was brilliant once you got into it Still, it did not have Le Carre s usual flow I am glad that I am taking the time to read his back catalogue before tackling the latest Smiley novel. The Russia House is a love story wrapped in a spy story The love story is somewhat less convincing than the spy story, but compelling Le Carre is a strong storyteller nonetheless, achieving vivid atmospheric effects Moscow, London, an island off the coast of Maine, Leningrad and driving scenes forward with deft, spirited dialogue.The peculiar satisfaction of the book lies in the main character, Barley, shaking off the chains he s been wrapped in by the British and American intelligence agencies, so that he can set his Russian lover free from her own doomed Russian lover and the claws of the dying Soviet state.Less satisfying is the appeal Barley exerts over Katya, his Russian co conspirator After all, he is a man who customarily drinks ten plus glasses of scotch a day This qualifies as an alcoholic, and in my experience, heavy duty alcoholics are not as charming as they think they are.Inevitably, a spy thriller published in 1989 will seem dated, but this one, based on revelations about the rottenness of the Soviet state, must have seemed quite clairvoyant At the time of its release, the USSR was, in fact, crumbling under the weight of its inefficiencies.The spycraft and tediously restrained spymasters are realistic human beings constrained by their bureaucratic procedures, yearning to be impetuous like Barley but not daring to be, yearning to chuck their marriages and run off with an exotic lover, but not daring to do so.Viewed as a study in international relations, The Russia House is a parable about the futility of the arms race between two superpowers whose competition gave a taste of global greatness they couldn t spit out to save their souls Viewed as a study in human relations, the book is thinner but entertaining Le Carre writes with spirit, pace, and detailed knowledge of his settings.But I still have a problem with Barley the Boozer ending up with his intriguing Russian amour. I noted on Facebook before I left for holiday that I have a habit of selecting crap books to read on it, but I always take Le Carre as a standby John, John, just when I needed you most, you let me down A painfully slow, slight tale of the ending of the Cold War that made me wonder where Le Carre found the motivation to persisit with the novel when he knew where it was going to an end not with a bang nor a whimper It felt like an elongated subplot from one of his better thrillers The writing was still good enough to pull me through, but it was, like the flight home, a long haul. I am late to reading John le Carre , and only now getting around to his non Smiley books such as this one Because it s set in the heady days of glasnost and perestroika, I thought it might seem dated but given what s been going on in the news today about the Russians trying to tilt our presidential election, it turned out to be far timely than expected It was also a compelling read, despite lacking the nail biting suspense of his Call for the Dead or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy The story starts off with a droll and mocking anecdote At a book fair, a Russian woman named Katya has handed over a manuscript to a British publisher to pass along to the man she intended to deliver it to, and who didn t show up The manuscript turns out to be a hot property the work of a Russian physicist who works on the Soviets missile tests The publisher can t find the intended recipient, a roguish Englishman named Barley Blair, and realizes how important this information might be, but then has a hard time convincing anyone in British intelligence to take it from him Once he succeeds in handing it over, though, they freak out and go through about six kinds of hell tracking down Blair He turns out to be in Lisbon, shacked up with a lady, getting drunk at a bar Blair, you soon realize, is the unlikely hero of the story, as he s drafted by British intelligence to go to Moscow and contact the physicist a chance acquaintance from a prior trip to Russia and verify that the info he s passed along is valid They train him in spycraft, then begin questioning whether he or his physicist friend are already involved in doubling them to pass along bogus info, and in the process tie themselves and their CIA partners in knots.The narrator le Carre has drafted to tell this story, by the way, is not Blair himself, but a chess playing attorney working for MI6 who has his own sense of humor and his own guilty secret For a while I found his occasional mentions of his shame annoying, but eventually it pays off because you see why he comes to regard the boozy, sax playing Blair as heroic as he works to save some innocent victims from being hammered by the forces gathered around the physicist known as Goethe.The villains are the intelligence operations of Britain, the U.S and Russia as le Carre mocks them, comparing their banal yet brutal political games to the high minded physicist who only wants to make the world a better place by exposing his employer s dirtiest secret namely, that their missile systems don t actually work The story contains amusing elements of farce right up until about halfway, when at the behest of the CIA one of the livelier Brits is suddenly booted from the operation because they perceive him as a security risk solely based on his personal life Then you realize how deadly serious the whole thing is.The book is not a classic thriller There are no chase scenes to speak of, no shoot outs, no corpus delecti to be examined But it s extremely well written and involving as we watch Blair decide that saving someone he loves is worth turning his life upside down, ditching his lazy old habits to become a better man, if not one who brings a better world. i just finished it two nights ago, and what a book thanks, ted, for turning me onto le carre he is a master of characterization, he has intricate, exciting, and utterly believable plots, and he has the added bonus of actually knowing what the hell he s talking about, having been on the inside of all this himself.even if you don t like spy fiction, there s much to admire here i can see why he s regarded as a grand master far and away better than ludlum, whose stuff has become dated in my opinion.
John le Carr , the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England , is an English author of espionage novels Le Carr has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for than 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land s End.See also
- 368 pages
- The Russia House
- John le Carré
- 27 July 2018 John le Carré