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A Perfect Spy

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  14,978 ratings  ·  629 reviews

Magnus Pym - ranking diplomat, consummate Englishman, loving husband, secret agent - has vanished. Has he defected? Gone to ground? As the hunt for Pym intensifies, the secrets of his life are revealed: the people he has loved and betrayed, the unreliable con-man father who made him, the two mentors who moulded and shaped him, and now wish to claim this perfect spy as thei

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Kindle Edition, Penguin Modern Classics, 672 pages
Published September 27th 2018 by Penguin Books (first published March 12th 1986)
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Average rating 3.99  · 
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Helen
Sep 02, 2009 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, debonai
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Darwin8u
Oct 16, 2011 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

description

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 abo
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Warwick
Le Carré writes beautifully, let's get that out of the way straight off, but something about this left me a little disappointed. It did have a lot to live up to: not only is it often considered his best work, it's sometimes considered anyone's best work. Philip Pullman reckons A Perfect Spy is ‘one of the finest novels of the twentieth century’, while Philip Roth said it was ‘the best English novel since the war’. Other Philips also speak highly of it.

It begins with the arrival of a man in a sm
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Wendy
May 27, 2009 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
Lewis Weinstein
Years ago I read this and gave it 5*****. I tried to re-read it (it's included reading for our Oxford course next summer), but found it disjointed and extremely difficult to follow, with little in the way of cohesive plot. Occasional paragraphs/pages were full of tension and beautifully written but there were not enough of these. I put it aside after 142 pages.
Bettie


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.



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 BBC Drama Series)

Episode 1: As a young boy Magnus Pym (played by twins, Jonathan and Nicholas Haley) sees his father Rick (Ray McAnally) imprisoned for embezzlement and his mother Dorothy (Caroline John) hospitalised by the stress. Magnus fakes a fit in order to escape the abusive uncle and alcoholic aunt with whom he has been sent to live. He is rescued from hospital by his recently released father who subsequently takes him along on the con of an elderly lady.

Magnus is sent to boarding school after his father is conscripted where staff and students disapprove of the flashy “business man”. Rick returns from the war a wealthy man and involves Magnus in a plan to defraud the bomb damage compensation fund. One night Magnus is hazed by a group of boys led by his “friend” Sefton Boyd and in revenge he tags the boy's initials on the wall of the staff toilet.

Episode 2: Magnus (Benedict Taylor) is called in to help his father after the plan to defraud the bomb damage compensation fund goes awry. Baroness Weber has asked Rick to help her recover a treasure trove secreted by her late husband before the war and Magnus is sent to accompany her. Upon arrival in Switzerland the Baroness runs up a large bill, absconds with all the money, and leaves Magnus down and out in Bern, in a classic example of the scam known as the Spanish Prisoner.

Magnus eventually manages to secure a scholarship to study law at the university in Bern. He befriends a Silesian émigré poet called Axel, who calls him "Sir Magnus". British intelligence officer Jack Brotherhood (Alan Howard) recruits Magnus to inform on a left-wing student group called the Cosmo Club. Magnus steals the club’s membership list and Axel is revealed to be a secret member. Jack persuades Magnus to betray his friend to the Swiss authorities

Episode 3: Magnus (Peter Egan) is called back from his studies at Oxford University to assist in his father’s election campaign. Peggy Wentworth (Frances Tomelty) whose late husband was conned by Rick approaches him. Magnus breaks into his father’s files and sends Rick’s prison records to Peggy. Confronted at a public meeting Rick brushes off his past misdoings as youthful indiscretions. Aware of his son’s betrayal he forgives him none-the-less. However, his hopes of political office are destroyed by the incident.

Magnus is recruited into the army and posted as an intelligence officer to Graz. Sabina his translator/mistress puts him in touch with a potential defector who turns out to be Axel. Axel hands over apparently important Soviet secret files on Magnus’s guarantee of anonymity, but later when under suspicion requires Magnus to hand over secret British files in return.

Episode 4: Rick crashes his son’s wedding to Belinda and offers them the gift of a new car, which is immediately impounded. Recruited by the Foreign Office, Magnus is sent to Prague where after making a pick-up from a dead-letter-drop he is arrested by Axel, blackmailed into exchanging further secrets, and reintroduced to Sabina who joins his network of planted agents.

Abandoned by his long neglected wife and reposted to Berlin, Magnus begins to court Jack’s girlfriend Mary. Late one night he is summoned to police headquarters where he discovers his father is being held in the cells for yet another bungled con job. Axel encourages Magnus into marrying Mary in the belief that the girl may help them gain access to their eventual target, the Americans.

Episode 5: Magnus is now married to Mary with a son called Tom and on his long awaited posting to Washington. He is still passing secrets but Axel is talking of retirement as things heat up. A committee of American agents headed by Harry Wexler and guided by Magnus’s “friend” Grant Laderer (Garrick Hagon) have noticed some curiosities in the computer analysis of Magnus and his Czechoslovakian networks.

Celebrating Christmas with his family, Magnus is called out to a bar where he meets his now destitute father. The committee comes to London to put their suspicions to senior British intelligence officers but Jack dismisses it all as a Czechoslovakian attempt to frame Magnus. Recalled to London and haunted by his past, Magnus, under a false name, takes secret lodgings with Miss Dubber (Peggy Ashcroft) in his old childhood neighbourhood in Devon.

Episode 6: While on a family holiday to Corfu, Tom (Graham McGrath) witnesses a meeting between his father and Axel. Axel tries to convince Magnus to retire or even defect but the double agent refuses. Jack recalls Magnus to Vienna where he learns of his father’s death. Magnus flies to London where he arranges the funeral and arranges for the collection of his father’s files. Mary calls Jack when Magnus fails to return to Vienna.

Magnus visits Sefton Boyd (Ian McNeice) and apologises for his first betrayal back at boarding school. Jack goes to Vienna in search of Magnus and interrogates Mary. Magnus retires to his secret lodgings in Devon where he enquires into local comings and goings. Jack searches Magnus’s home uncovering references to someone codenamed Poppy and begins to suspect Magnus of betrayal.

Episode 7: Jack continues to interrogate Mary to learn more of the mysterious Poppy. Kate admits to Jack that Magnus got her to remove references to Sabine from his personnel file. Recovering the doctored info Jack learns of Magnus’s mysterious contact in Graz. Axel passes a message to Mary offering his assistance in tracking the missing Magnus down.

Members of Magnus’s Czechoslovakian networks start to go silent. Jack realises Prague is rolling up the fake network and the extent of Magnus’s betrayal is finally revealed. With both sides now racing to find Magnus, Mary meets with Axel who gives her a clue as to where he is hiding. Jack and Mary drive to Devon where a police siege of Miss Dubber's lodging house ends with a single gunshot. Although the suicide occurs off-screen the final shot is of Magnus in the bathtub with half of his face blown away.


This was great! The fab episode descriptions are plucked from wiki. The earworm was Underneath The Arches

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Quirkyreader
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a brilliant story. At first I wasn't going to give it any stars because it seemed more like a stream of consciousness story and not a novel as we know it. But as I got into the story and its flow, I got sucked in.

And this is a stand alone story. It has nothing to do with Smiley and The Circus. So if you have never read a LeCarre story before, this is a good introduction to his writing style.
Nigeyb
Sep 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found 'A Perfect Spy' (1986) by John le Carré quite hard work for the two thirds of the book however I stuck with it and was really glad I did. In the final third it comes together beautifully.

I was also pleased I'd already read John le Carré: The Biography' by Adam Sisman, as 'A Perfect Spy' i
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Nancy Oakes
Dec 18, 2008 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, whe
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Thomas
Jul 16, 2012 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
Wale
Feb 20, 2012 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
August
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Fiona
Aug 18, 2012 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
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Simon Mcleish
Dec 10, 2012 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 h
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Smiley
Sep 12, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I found this novel formidable. As far as I know, the author wrote it based on Kim Philby's life who later defected to the then USSR as a senior citizen there till his death. The title also reminds me of 'A Perfect Crime' I read in an anthology, a book I borrowed from the College of Education Library, BKK.
AC
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spy-mystery
Hmmm. Will have to think about this. Since I knew the ending and the book is long, an element of disaffection. Very rich in character, and in description... literature, not genre, to be sure (as Philip Roth had it).
Laura
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4:
1/3. 'Love is whatever you can still betray. Betrayal can only happen if you love.' So says Magnus Pym, the spy of the title; and he has betrayed a lot in his life - countries, friends and lovers. When Magnus disappears after his father's funeral MI6 launches an urgent manhunt to prevent his defection. Dramatised by Robert Forrest.

2/3. When Magnus Pym disappears after his father's funeral MI6 launches an urgent manhunt to prevent his defection. But Pym is on a
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Tom
Jan 26, 2008 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.
Matthew Kresal
Jul 24, 2011 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
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C.A. Sole
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Like all his books, intriguing, sometimes complicated, but very well written and un-put-downable
Janet
Feb 25, 2009 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.
MTK
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant novel, though regular readers of le Carre should be warned that it is primarily a character study and only as an afterthought a spy thriller. The author has written many books about how the espionage community functioned during the Cold War, in this one he chose to focus on the inner workings of the minds of its members. The storytelling was a bit disjointed at times, but I think it was deliberate, as it suited the theme of the book and the rather disjointed personality of its protag ...more
John
Apr 16, 2008 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
Gerald
Feb 11, 2008 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 th
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Zuberino
"Although I've never been to a shrink, writing A Perfect Spy is probably what a very wise shrink would have advised me to do anyway."

That John le Carre is, and always will be, considered a genre writer first and foremost, a mere peddler of spy fiction, seems to me one of the great travesties of modern literature (although there is some evidence that that assessment is changing). No one who has read A Perfect Spy could have any doubt as to his true genius as a novelist, as a master cartographer
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Cathal Kenneally
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How could I read any James Bond books or even watch the movies? This is proper espionage. John LeCarre is a master storyteller, and although some of his books seem pithy, lengthy even they’re damn fine books to read. Not many are like him. He has no rivals
Frank Stein
Mar 23, 2014 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
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Edwin Blair
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, might be his best 'spy' novel, but "A Perfect Spy" is hands down his best work. It is a masterpiece, that contains a sophisticated plot with constant twists and reversals adeptly executed, but will cause those of a malnourished attention span to quit the novel or give it a poor review with an even poorer explanation. If you were awake at the wheel, by the third chapter its obvious, that what we are reading is heavily autobiographical. Its Autobiographical very ...more
Debbie Notkin
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took my partner and I more than a year to read aloud to each other, in 20-minute increments as one of us folds laundry.

It's excellent Le Carré, which means that it's excellent. It takes place in two times. One time line builds up the life history of Magnus Pym, an agent for the British Secret Service, son of a remarkable con man, close friends with a Czech agent he met in Germany when they were both young men, both of them acting as double agents to serve their country and each
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Bev Taylor
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
magnus pym was trained unwittingly by his father to be the perfect spy. his father was a con man of the highest order!!

follow pym from his childhood thru 50 years of lie as he rises thru the ranks and is being controlled by 2 agents from different countries who have been his lifelong mentors

then he disappears from vienna whilst counsellor at the british embassy whilst getting his life back on track after his unfortunate dismissal from washington

the chase is on led by his 2 agents to find a mi
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Miss Dubber 2 14 Aug 08, 2016 05:01AM  
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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.” 95 likes
“You could be the perfect spy. All you need is a cause.” 14 likes
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