Esdaile's Reviews > The Looking Glass War

The Looking Glass War by John le Carré
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's review
Dec 09, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: espionage
Read in December, 2011

This has been described as an "anti-James Bond" spy story and it is true that its salient feature is not adventure but realism. Very little happens in this book and anyone expecting some kind of pot boiler will be extremely disappointed. There is much that I do not like about the book, its committed and uncompromising indulgence in dreariness almost for the sake of dreariness, the world-weariness with which the entire story seems to be coloured, the humourlessness, the paucity of indulgence and the lack of humour or the enjoyment of language for its own sake. (I wonder how much Le Carré was influenced by Hemmingway?) Le Carré's strength does not lie there but he knows it; he does not ever attempt to write in a way which does not come to him naturally. He knows what he is skilled at and confines himself to doing what he can do well, anmely the faithful, intelligent and discerning account of the machinations involved in a spy operation.
His strength is realism and conviction. This story is so convincingly told that I felt John Le Carré must have lived in East Germany himself. The characters are wholly credible without appearing to be simply copies from life (and that is a feat of writing). People behave in this book exactly as people do behave in life, with all the egotism and ambition and quirkiness that real people possess and which it is hard to depict accurately in fiction. The novel is perfectly balanced, with nothing exaggerated, out of prorportion to another aspect of the story. I think I will remember this book well for the rest of my conscious life. Nevertheless, it is a thin and somewhat tasteless gruel that the reader is offered, and I am surprised and a little puzzeled that many people find the book inspiring or award it five stars.
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