You can see the mature le Carré in this first effort. He uses good prose, knows the value of characterizati...moreJohn le Carré's first novel and I liked it.
You can see the mature le Carré in this first effort. He uses good prose, knows the value of characterization, has sufficient story to carry the word count, and uses the George Smiley plot device.
Good prose is the mark of a good writer and le Carré always delivers: forceful, fresh, and concise.
At 150 pages, Call for the Dead is short and the story is not overly elaborate. Finding the clues could have been a little more subtle, with a little more misdirection, a little more elaborate and with a little more trade craft thrown in; le Carré could have added another 50-100 pages of story really without too much trouble.
One of the best things about le Carré is his attention to characterization; it's important to understand the characters well enough to understand why they do the things they do. He introduces us to George Smiley with an introductory chapter before he takes us into the story. This is a little clunky, but he pulls it off, mostly. He gives Peter Guillam and Mendel rather short shrift by comparison. He's good with Elsa Fennan as well and it's rather important. A smoother and more complete characterization for all of his characters (in proportion to their importance) would have added another 50-100 pages.
And he uses the George Smiley plot device here that he will use again and again in his later novels. George never seems to be quite on track in interpreting the facts in the first half of a le Carré novel. He develops a couple of plausible theories, but they don't quite match the facts or provide convincing motivation. But then George has an aha moment and sends his associates (usually Guillam and Mendel) into action without explaining to the reader his new (and correct) theory. When all the action is completed and the desired end is (mostly) reached, George enlightens us with an explanation of the correct interpretation of the facts.
Well worth the read and not just for George Smiley completists.(less)
I refer you to Wikipedia for the basics. Honestly, it's worth a look.
This is a deeply subversive novel as witnessed by the acts of the senior British...moreI refer you to Wikipedia for the basics. Honestly, it's worth a look.
This is a deeply subversive novel as witnessed by the acts of the senior British officers.
Written in good clean prose that takes a back seat to characterization and story. In fact, as you might suspect, this novel is all about character and characterization. Clavell succeeds brilliantly.(less)
Jim Thompson has an over the top quality that is one of the core values of his writing. Texas by the Tail is not an exemplar of that style. This is mo...moreJim Thompson has an over the top quality that is one of the core values of his writing. Texas by the Tail is not an exemplar of that style. This is more in the vein of The Grifters, my personal favorite.
Thompson is known for his punchy, no nonsense prose and his gritty take on humanity. But he can be perceptive in his pathos.
So she wept, and he wept a little with her. Not for the idealized dreams of the past, but for the immutable realities of the present. Not for what had been lost but for what had never been. Not for what might have been but for what could never be.
Thompson expended a great fraction of this novel on characterization down to the secondary characters. This is the strength of the novel. The story wobbles across Texas and ends when Thompson thought he had enough pages. Another stroke of Thompson's style. (less)
I read this the first time many, many years ago when I was but a young lad. Had been reading Ian Fleming and a friend gave me this. It was an eye open...moreI read this the first time many, many years ago when I was but a young lad. Had been reading Ian Fleming and a friend gave me this. It was an eye opener. Over the long years, I had forgotten nearly everything - except that I had liked it a great deal and that the watch word was betrayal.
Here we have an example par excellence of popular spy fiction...and a genuine work of art.
How did le Carré do it?
Alec Leamas lives in a world of government functionaries, shabby offices, and amoral colleagues. The forces of democracy and communism face each other in a dangerous cold war. Each side claims moral superiority. Their intelligence services play a game of cat and mouse; placing agents, turning agents and losing agents. These intelligence services measure their worth not by principle, but by practical success. In doing so, they betray their own people, themselves, and their ideologies. This is the world of Alec Leamas and le Carré immerses the reader in it.
The central theme of this world is betrayal and le Carré creates a story of manifold betrayal; it pulls the reader along. The reader thinks he knows what's happening, just as each of the characters thinks he knows and each character knows something different.
The characters are well developed; we know their psychological motivations; we know why each does what he does. Some of these characters, on both sides, are, for all their flaws, inherently decent and the reader identifies with their struggle to do their best or to do at least one clean thing in a very dirty world.
The prose is economical and well crafted. There is enough story to carry the words; le Carré does not dilute it with irrelevant digressions. There is ultimately in this story a betrayal of principle, but le Carré is never preachy. Control offers Leamas some advice on the conduct of his mission; le Carré followed that advice when he wrote The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. (less)