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A Perfect Spy

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  9,799 ratings  ·  343 reviews
John le Carre's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him unprecedented worldwide acclaim. Immersing readers in two parallel dramas -- one about the making of a spy, the other chronicling his seemingly imminent demise -- le Carre offers one of his richest a ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published January 1st 2003 by Scribner Book Company (first published January 1st 1986)
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le CarréThe Bourne Identity by Robert LudlumThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Hunt for Red October by Tom ClancyThe Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
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Community Reviews

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Let me start this review with these words; this book is devastating. It is the best writing John Le Carre has ever done, and will ever do.

That's not to say that it's a better spy novel than Tinker Tailor or The Spy Who Came in From the Cold; it's not. If spycraft is what you crave, it's here, but it definitely takes a back seat to everything else. In A Perfect Spy, Le Carre's writing rises easily to the level of the 20th Century's greatest authors.

After the death of his father, Magnus Pym, debo
Magnus Pym, the hero of A Perfect Spy, was raised by his psychopathic, con-man father and thwarted from developing his own identity; instead he was forced to play different roles while helping to carry out his father’s various schemes. Privately he knows he is something more than all the roles he’s played, but what? That’s the mystery, that’s the enigma that pulses throughout the novel.

John Le Carre has written a book which condenses the full weight of modernity’s existential crisis into what a
I picked up this book since it was on a list of most influential novels according to one of my issues of Mental Floss magazine, but I just couldn't force myself to get through it. I read about 100 pages of some of the most impenetrable prose, full of confusing switches in point of view, setting, and time period before I set it aside. The army of characters that dropped in like paratroopers made it hard to keep the names straight and at some point, I stopped trying. I just never got into the stor ...more
Philip Roth, himself, claims on the book's cover that it is "the best English novel since the war". I find that hard to believe, but I can understand why Roth would like it. It is structurally sound and Magnus Pym, the perfect spy, is a memorable character. Personally, though, I wasn't really impressed. It is a long book (700pages), jumping back and forth in time, lots of characters and a narrator who, somewhat schizophrenically, never refers to himself using the first-person singular pronoun. W ...more
Nancy Oakes
I recently found a review of this book ( here ) that notes that A Perfect Spy is a kind of what-if autobiographical account of John LeCarre himself (fictionalized, obviously). Whether this is or is not the case, this is one of the best novels I've read this year.

Magnus Pym, intelligence agent for the British, has gone to London after the news of his father Rick's death. He is supposed to return to Vienna, where he and his wife Mary are currently stationed, but instead he sends his luggage on ho
I got through half-way in this book and had to drop it. What did it for me were the long narratives of flashbacks into the main character's past which I suppose were meant to unveil gradually to the reader who the main character really was and the ultimate motives behind his actions. They were quite murky and tedious and I didn't have the patience to really delve into them. I my opinion they detracted from the clarity and fluidity that should be salient traits of any good prose (from the Latin w ...more
Le Carre does Dickens...but he's not Dickens. There are two intertwined narratives in the book, one describing the main character's background and childhood (which, as has been noted, shares many details with the author's own childhood), the other describing his contemporary dilemma as a spy on the run. The contemporary man-hunt stuff is fun, thrilling, suspenseful; it would have made a good spy novel in itself with a little more development. The sections dealing with the character's childhood a ...more
Matthew Kresal
There are novels which can only be described by a single word: epic. John le Carre's A Perfect Spy, published originally in 1986, is one of those novels to be certain. It is a tale that stretches right across half the twentieth century in the form of the life of Magnus Pym, the perfect spy of the novel's title. The novel is also, in fine le Carre tradition, a fine cross between the spy thriller and a human drama and is all the better for it.

The story revolves around the life and times of Britis
Remembrances of loyalties past. In some of le Carré's novels you feel haunted by the ghosts of Conrad, Greene, Nabokov, etc. In 'The Perfect Spy', I went back and forth about whether le Carré was building this novel to be Dickensian spy novel or a Proustian spy novel.

I still haven't quite figured it out. All I know is that it worked; it was brilliant. It was beset by elements of Proust, Dickens, le Carré's own father, and le Carré himself. In a story about multiple fathers, why can't it be both
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in August 2001.

One of le Carré's non-Smiley novels, A Perfect Spy is far more about the psychological pressures which create a secret agent than about the mechanics of spying itself. It is part of le Carré's move away from writing genre thrillers that really began with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Magnus Pym is quite a senior operational officer, who has been running networks of British spies in Czechoslovakia for many years. After the death of his father Ric

The Sunday Times reviewer calls this 'a perfect work of fiction' and le Carre's masterpiece. I can't disagree. This is a fantastic read - a real page turner, intelligently written and often very funny. I'm a fan of JleC's anyway but I'm now in awe of his artistry and expertise in reeling in and hooking his readers. It's not often these days that I struggle to put a book down. My only regret is that I've finished it and will find it a hard act to follow for the depth of the main characters, for i
This is one of those books I thought I had read. I certainly know that I had a copy of it which ended up going to charity and recently when I watched the interview Mark Lawson did with Le Carre I found another copy, being intrigued about the story mirroring the authors own life. The book did not disappoint and whilst it remains fundamentally a tale of spying and betrayal it is much more. Even reading the classic Smiley trilogy you know as well as espionage that the books are about much more; a m ...more
Lisabet Sarai
John Le Carre is known for writing spy novels but in fact A Perfect Spy could be viewed as an anti-spy novel. There are no villains, no plots for world domination, no car chases or explosions. Enemies are imagined, antipathies flourish within organizations and the truest friendship in the novel crosses the East-West line.

A Perfect Spy follows the life of British master intelligence agent Magnus Richard Pym. As the book begins, Magnus has made himself disappear. Both his colleagues and his advers
This story centres on a father, Rick, and son, Magnus, relationship and its overall effects on the son on his chosen path in life. Rick Pym is a con man, a very convincing con man with able lieutenants in Syd, Perce, Muspole, and Cudlove, together they con everyone about everything imaginable taking Liberal politicians, the clergy, educational establishment right up to the grandest hotels in the land, both at home and abroad. There are women, girls, lovelies they are called all through the story ...more
Nov 10, 2010 John rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
The first hundred or so pages of A Perfect Spy seem designed to disorient: after a charming opening where Magnus Pym descends upon a quiet English shore town for what appears to be some much-needed R&R ("Hello Mr. Canterbury," the woman greets him upon opening the door, catching the alert reader off guard and perhaps already sounding an alarm in the reader's mind), we cut to Vienna, where Pym's wife apparently doesn't know where her husband is, and over the pages that follow it becomes clear ...more
Phani Tholeti
Misnomer. Epic boring. Dull, drab and unnecessarily prolonged and wordy and descriptive and ... I wanted one word to describe this so called "autobiographical" epic novel. If its to be autobiographical, at least it should have been mentioned, I'd have given it a skip. But I really can write a book about how Magnum Pym's son would cry and curse his father trying the jumbled up, incomprehensibly dense and wordy details about his relationship with his father.
When you have read about the book, and s
Selina Kyle
Sometimes we have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.

So goes the life of Magnus Pym, a British spy who has suddenly gone missing. He has vanished to his childhood home, where he's rented a room and holed up in order to confess to his son his life as a double agent. From his beginnings as the son of a con man and a whole range of women who stood in as his mother, to his days trying on different names and faces and pasts at the sc
I've read three other novels by LeCarre' and enjoyed them all but this was the best. More of a fictional memoir than a spy story in which the protagonist tries to explain his life to his son, wife and mentor.

Although a great book, it can be hard reading at times especially at the beginning when the time frame and view point can change from paragraph to paragraph.
The best John le Carre, the making of a perfect spy-- a boy who grows up with a conman father, who wants something to believe in, but also, has all the skills necessary. Brilliant beyond belief.
Lewis Weinstein
The best, by the best.
Buck Jones
I hesitate in giving this book a low rating - because it is a classic (pretty much anything written by John Le Carre is a classic for the spy genre). And yet ...

The lead character, the apparent "perfect spy" for the purposes of this novel, is Magnus Pym - born before WW2 as the son of grifter / con-artist. The childhood and adolescence of Magnus is explored in great detail, recollected in memories written down by himself once he's gone into hiding late in his life. The various exploits and sche
I had a difficult time reading this book, especially the first half. I would pick it up, read a page or two and I was either bored or lost most of the time, but, I knew Le Carre was a good writer; I could tell from the pages I had read how good he was so I doggedly continued. By the time I read the last words, I wondered to myself how had he done it? How had he pulled me in so completely? I shed a tear for our character Pym, I felt connected to Pym, Rick, Axle, Brotherhood and Mary in some deep ...more
My holiday standby. Allegedly an autobiographical work, this took the cahracterisation that was missing in the novel above and showed how it really should be done. Infact, it was almost over-done by le Carre, as the main players in this book slowly unwound their past histories and interweaving destinies for us to ponder over. Le Carre doesn’t need set pieces to build suspense and action, as this happens in the thoughts and deeds of his people. What motivates them, how they became what they are, ...more
A Complete Masterpiece. The funny thing about this book was the way it ensnares the reader. It began slowly, almost boring, but eventually I became so intrigued by Pym and who he really was that I couldn't put the book down. Pym had such a sadness throughout the story, his childhood especially but the relationship between he and his father was the most interesting. It's said that this work is largely auto-biographical of le Carré (his father was something of a con-artist and he never really knew ...more
Reread and finished today. Even for Le Carre, a most complex psychological exploration of what it takes to live a life of espionage, treading between both sides in the final decade of the cold war. Though it takes place in real time in just one month, the story line jumps back and forth through six decades of the live of the "perfect spy," Magnus Pym. We gradually come to understand how his relationships growing up, notably with his con-man father, shaped the complex, contradictory character he ...more
Jim Leckband
I loved the story of how a spy is born - from the conman father to the conman spy handlers. Everybody has an angle, but Magnus does not live...(edit 6 months after the review: apparently I didn't finish this sentence when I first wrote this. Damned if I know what I was thinking then. I don't think I meant that Magnus dies...)

Magnus Pym is always wanting to believe in something and is often wrong. He betrays the people and things most able to help him to the people who are just using him. The pro
Aug 27, 2014 Swati rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: owned
I really enjoy le Carré's writing but I found the non-linear timeline a bit too distorted. I'm a fan of switching timelines if it facilitates the story well, but in this case, it was just a bit too cumbersome to read, and it didn't even lend any depth or rhythm to the lead character's thought processes. Also, I predicted the story line, which is never fun.

The best takeaway from reading this book was the throwback you get to literary times where reading was actually enriching for the mind and no
Since the classic "The Day of the Jackal" -- the only spy/thriller-type book I've ever read -- is one of my all-time favorite vacation reads, I thought I'd pick up another in the same relatively light genre to tide me over while doing some recent traveling. Note: IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR LIGHT READING, DO NOT CHOOSE "THE PERFECT SPY." At least early on, I found it so impenetrable that I almost made it the second book in my 37 years that I didn't finish. Actually, though, I'm glad I stuck with it; ...more
I should say, I just reread this book. As I do every so often with the brilliant novels of John Le Carre, aka David Cornwell, former British intelligence analyst and god-knows-what-he-can't-say. I reread them because, genre aside, he's such a masterful stylist of the English language.

The book's metaphors (shared with his other works) are also just right. The spy as "close observer" is the reader--as the very same. The spy as double-agent, as betrayer, is the inverter of love, the man in the mirr
A Perfect Spy by John le Carré is one of the best books I have read in ages. It is a beautifully structured, moving in shifting perspectives, with an unreliable narrators; the plot is pretty simple to follow, despite the novel having a lot of twists and turns, as le Carré's laconic style is calibrated to perfection. A Perfect Spy may not be as well known as his Smiley novels (or should that be TV shows and films), but by mining his own history, his complex relationship with his criminal father, ...more
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John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), is an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.

See also: John le Carré - Wikipedia
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“Sometimes we have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.” 71 likes
“You could be the perfect spy. All you need is a cause.” 6 likes
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