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Perfect Spy

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  11,861 Ratings  ·  425 Reviews
The premier spy novelist of our time now gives us his largest and most engaging work. It is a novel that plumbs the essential nature of espionage itself as it interweaves the story of a secret international manhunt with the unfolding of a secret life—the life of a man of spectacular gifts, nursed on deceit, schooled in betrayal, incapable of love: a perfect spy. The man is ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published May 5th 1987 by Penguin Canada (first published March 12th 1986)
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Sep 02, 2009 Helen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: espionage
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
Oct 16, 2011 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
“Sometimes we have to do a thing in order to find out the reason for it. Sometimes our actions are questions, not answers.”
― John le Carré, A Perfect Spy


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 bri
May 27, 2009 Wendy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
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

Description: Magnus Pym -- son of Rick, father of Tom, and a successful career officer of British Intelligence -- has vanished, to the dismay of his friends, enemies, and wife. Who is he? Who was he? Who owns him? Who trained him? Secrets of state are at risk. As the truth about Pym gradually emerges, the reader joins Pym's pursuers to explore the unsettling life and motives of a man who fought the wars he inherited with the only weapons he knew, and so became a perfect spy.

A Perfect Spy 1987 BB
Nancy Oakes
Dec 18, 2008 Nancy Oakes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 20, 2012 Wale rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 16, 2012 Thomas rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, fiction
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
Lewis Weinstein
The best, by the best.
Matthew Kresal
Jul 24, 2011 Matthew Kresal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Simon Mcleish
Dec 10, 2012 Simon Mcleish rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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
Apr 16, 2008 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 18, 2012 Fiona rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
C.A. Sole
Jul 26, 2016 C.A. Sole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like all his books, intriguing, sometimes complicated, but very well written and un-put-downable
Sep 22, 2012 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 01, 2015 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 27, 2015 Lisabet Sarai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dennis Baum
Jul 04, 2014 Dennis Baum rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm disappointed. I spent three weeks stumbling through the dialogue of this tome before I made a most sensible personal decision to give it up. Simply one of the most frustrating reads I have ever attempted. Prose that rambled on, page after page, leading no where. For my two cents, A Perfect Spy ranks comfortably with William Faulkner's works; another brilliant writer I wasn't able to fathom. Hey, John le Carre, is this a spy novel? I love the genre the much as the next guy, but for Christ's s ...more
Feb 11, 2008 Gerald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 26, 2008 Tom rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A strange hybrid. The sections of the book concerning Pym's disappearance and the effect it has on his family and colleagues are good solid stuff. Unfortunately too much of the book is taken up with Pym's terribly over-written autobiography, that just goes on and on and on and on and on and on. Excruciating.
Aug 29, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 25, 2009 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Frank Stein
Mar 23, 2014 Frank Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This book is almost exactly what everyone says it is, one of the best novels to be written about duplicity and betrayal dressed up like a somewhat typical spy story. Like much work by le Carre, there are Soviets and Czechs and double and triple agents and jilted lovers and the usual panoply of genre characters, but weaving through the whole is a bildungsroman with a remarkable synchronicity to le Carre's (David Cornwell's) own life.

The main character is Magnus Pym, son of a notorious con artist
Mar 29, 2008 Steve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, thriller
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
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
Oct 27, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 17, 2011 Gary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 21, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 26, 2012 Jaki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Took me a long time to get into this book. I think part of that is the style whenever the book is being narrated by Magnus--I disliked those sections of the book stylistically, felt it was filled with a lot that wasn't advancing the story and overall wasn't that appealing to me because I didn't need all that background on Magnus--that was the real story going on here, but I felt it could have been summarized much more succinctly. It also just added layers of confusion and lots more characters to ...more
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
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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
More about John le Carré...

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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.” 82 likes
“You could be the perfect spy. All you need is a cause.” 10 likes
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