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The Russia House

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  13,590 ratings  ·  179 reviews
John le Carré 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 Carré tracks the dark and devastating trail of a document that could profoundly alter the course of wor ...more
Paperback, 431 pages
Published 1989 by Knopf
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The Russia House is a love story wrapped in a spy story. The love story is somewhat less convincing than the spy story, but more 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
"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 Carré 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:
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, w ...more
This is a good, solid Le Carre, but as is often the case, the novel needed editing. The story concerns a Soviet physicist with information that Soviet nuclear technology is less advanced than the world thinks, who communicates this information through a manuscript that he asks a friend, Katya, to pass on to a British publisher, Scott Blair ("Barley"). British intelligence intercepts it, and then recruits Barley to go back to Moscow and try to recruit the scientist to find out more Soviet secrets ...more
In my reading, this book was all about the challenges, perils and rewards (if any, in this case) of nuclear disarmament. It's a world-weary view of the subject, though, especially in le Carre's take on experts. From a conversation between Barley, the British publisher, and Goethe, the Russian scientist: "Experts are addicts. They solve nothing! They are servants of whatever system hires them. They perpetuate it. When we are tortured, we shall be tortured by experts. When we are hanged, experts w ...more
Colin Flaherty
If you've never ready any le Carre, the Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a great place to start. I also enjoyed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Russia House is good, though my guess is the Cold War fiction is probably suffering a bit in popularity.

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 writin ...more
A beautiful Russian woman brings a manuscript to a book agent at a Russian book fair to forward to Barley Blair, a UK publisher. The manuscript is not a creative work, rather, it contains detailed information about Soviet nuclear capabilities. When the agent can't find Barley, he turns the documents over to the British authorities. They recognize the value of it and find Barley and send him on missions to find the author of the manuscript and to verify that its contents are accurate.

This was a r
Morris Graham
I had difficulty at first with the main character. He was an unlikely spy, recruited first unwittingly by the KGB's disinformation agency, then by British intelligence, then the CIA. A book publisher with failed marriages, a drinking problem, a womanizer who used women and then discarded them, a businessman who operated his publishing house in the red. You might say, a loser who becomes everyone's pawn. I had difficulty becoming invested in the story until about page 95, mostly because I found t ...more
this is a spy novel set at the end of the cold war and beginning of perestroika . it is brilliant on the grey men in the intelligence services and their thought processes and on the smoke and mirrors of spying and trust . the world weary conclusion , that the bluff and counterbluff between Russia and the West were essentially empty , seems to ring true .
the scenes in Russia were great , although the Ruskies seemed a little bit stereotyped or perhaps absolutely everyone there really drinks and is
Strangely, it's closest to a thriller in genre but there were no swerves in the plotline -- you pretty much see everything coming before it happens. I don't view that as a flaw in the book, more that le Carre is offering a point of view on the world of spying. ("Spying is waiting," he writes.) For about half the book, I wished the first character we met, Niki Landau, was the main character. Barley isn't particularly likeable, but I took that as intentional as well. My only real complaint is how ...more
Jul 28, 2008 Maureen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: espionage, novel
With his deep familiarity with both the world of spies and Soviet Russia, John LeCarre presents Barley Blair, who may be the most improbable secret agent in the history of espionage. This is classic LeCarre, both in plot and setting. After reading this book, I felt that I could navigate through parts of Moscow without a map. I recommend this book not just for the scenery, but because LeCarre's uses espionage as a canvas to paint very large pictures on the universal themes of life and death, hono ...more
Paul S
My first Le Carre book, and I will read many more.

I've heard Le Carre described as "too slow"; I would say instead that he's very deliberate. I can handle deliberate if the author/narrator say enough interesting things along the way (see Nelson DeMille). And while it does feel as if it's developing slowly at times, by the time you're done it's clear that he's packed an awful lot into just 353 pages. Great characters and scene descriptions, some absolutely brilliant turns of phrase, and a solid
Off The Shelf
Kevin Myers reviewed The Russia House on

In Communist Russia, Spy Novel Reads YOU! by Kevin Myers

Ever since the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I’ve become fascinated once again with the Russian people and culture. I was just a kid when The Russia House by John le Carré was published. I don’t remember it, but I do recall Ronald Reagan’s “”evil empire” speech. I remember Rocky IV, Russkies, Red Dawn, and The Police singing about “Russians.” We Americans
Olivia Kienzel
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 opin
This was one of those books I had put off for many years. I finally got to it (probably motivated due to a recent trip to Eastern Europe). le Carre's writing is fabulous; the tension and human innuendos, the patterns of those who are involved with spying versus those who would rather just live and love, and Mr. Barley's place in both as a reluctant hero sets the probably-realistic tone for the glamorous gray life of secret service.
One of le Carre's best novels. A good enough thriller, but more importantly, audacious in its telling, from a Watsonian perspective -- first-person observer, with the main character not the narrator. I like that, and I like that le Carre cared about thrillers enough to experiment with form. When it comes to spy novels, you could do a hell of a lot worse than just reading le Carre and skipping everyone else.
Colour, jazz, bravery, love and light feature in this book. On the face of it this is a spy story, but the spies simply manipulate ordinary people who are driven by passions: the Russian scientist with secrets to impart, his ex lover who is the go between, the Jazz loving tenor sax playing book publisher who having drifted in life suddenly finds a new purpose. Is this worth reading? Yes: John le Carré writes from a detached point of view, and the tone of the book is one of surveillance. You are ...more
Although the narration was a bit dense at times and the novel got off to a slow start, it ends strongly and allows the reader to appreciate the beginning fully by the end. Despite the large number of characters, they were all well-developed and perhaps the best part of the book was the choice of narrating character and his own internal struggle.

Excellent depiction of Cold War Russia.
My first brush with le Carré!

Gorgeous novel full of tenderness, mixed feelings, cold weather, and secrets. I loved the story and the style a lot. The pacing is tense but driven by conversation, not by action. Part of me picked this up expecting a Clancy or Ludlum style thriller so the emotional depth of this novel caught me by complete surprise.

A nice cold weather read.
I'm not embarrassed to give this my first five star review. This is a book I return to every so often in the hopes of recapturing some of the joy of the initial reading. It does not disappoint. "The Russia House" does what a good book should, it envelopes the reader, embraces them. I remember coming out of my readings a little dazed, perhaps a little vulnerable?
Jim Leckband
A recent book I read (The Vengeance of Rome: The Fourth Volume of the Colonel Pyat Quartet) had the main character muse that the Fascists hated jazz. They didn't mind other popular music styles, but jazz with its emphasis on personal style and improvisation was not going to fly in a totalitarian system. Similarly, in "The Russian House", the main character, Blair, is a saxophone playing "free-thinker" who runs afoul of the totalitarians in the secret services of the UK and US.

The plot is much si
Smiley's People is my absolute favorite by this author, but Russia House runs a close second. When it came out, the central idea of the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed like very big stretch of the facts. Now, of course, it just seems like history. One of the most charming heroes ever created by Le Carre and one of the happiest endings.
My first experience with Le Carre - not gripping, a bit slow, some interesting character development and insights in to Russian society (like I'd know whether it was accurate or not !) - story got better towards the end and a bit of a plot/twist emerged.
I can only assume the 'Smiley' books are more gripping - to justify the reputation
Fred Scharmen
My favorite so far of LeCarre's spy novels. This becomes a psychological and political history of the end of the Cold War, with characters sketched so cleanly and clearly, they're in the room with you. Started these on a recommendation, and I've been saving them, reading about two or three a year. If you like one, you'll like them all.
Arlene Richards
Well written as per usual by John Le Carrie. It is an exciting cold war spy mystery where you are left wondering what really happened at the completion of the book. His characters are multi-layered and real. I thoroughly enjoyed a closer look at the Russian people, their customs and their history.
Derek Lewis
Great work over all, but I had a hard time getting into it. It took a few chapters, but then it became classic le Carre. It is a classic cold war era spy game with a twist; the action all comes from common everyday people, not spies. Far better than the movie!!
After four attempts I 'got into it'--sounding familiar, eh?--and was rewarded for my efforts. A very good film with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer.
oh man brain is mush. i can't remember if this is 4 or 5. one of two books i brought with me, and partly a real achivement due to its contrasting the pisspoorness of EXILES by Philip Caputo. what does this accomplish really well? "atmospherics." le Carre has some magical talent that you physically feel like you're in Leningrad. doesn't feel like a novel, rather like a real life story that somebody briefed Le Carre on.

i wrote heaps more but I guess I will publish it online since I think GR has to
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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 forty years where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.
More about John le Carré...
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy The Spy Who Came In from the Cold Smiley's People The Constant Gardener A Perfect Spy

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“Spying is waiting.” 8 likes
“... in moments of crisis our thoughts do not run consecutively but rather sweep over us in waves or intuition and experience ...” 5 likes
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