The Spy who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre was the book I gave away free for World Book Night. I actually chose Northern Lights by Philip Pullman as my first title but they had given all of those out to givers so I got my second choice. What a good choice anyway! I gave this book to punters in my local on the Friday and Saturday and it was so easy. I just promised them a great read and said it was a free book. Quite a few men, in particular, had already read it and agreed that it was a fine spy novel and took a copy to read again and I am hoping that readers new to the book do read it and enjoy reading it as much as I have.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is not a typical spy story, there are few gadgets and being a spy is presented as a bleak, isolating and cold job. ‘The Cold’, can mean so many things – The Cold War, the cold of post war Europe and the cold of human kind after such brutality. However, the cold is something even deeper, it is something that chills the bones of Leamas and it kills him. It would appear, that the cold is indeed the secret service but more specifically Control, who is detached, unemotional, professional and who is the secret service elite. They use Leamas for their own means and the Cold War is fought with a philosophy of ‘the end justifying the means.’ I read the novel suspecting that Alec does know what is happening underneath the bluff and double bluff and is aware of his ‘end’. I think what motivates Alec is the opportunity to take the Mundt down until he realises that Mundt has used him to take Fielder down and ‘kill the Jew’. Alec tries to treat Liz kindly throughout and believes they will her let her go in the end and he is prepared to die to ensure she does. The end is brutal and proves the coldness of the world of espionage, it is not a British coldness or even a German coldness, it is the coldness of the Circus. In saving Liz and sacrificing himself Leamas proves himself to be warm and human.
The character of Leamas is fascinating to the reader we admire him and his intelligence although the rest of world does not appear to do so. He was active in the war and had seen the liberation of the concentration camps and been in Berlin in the 50s. The man Leamas, was not cut out for a normal desk job and in his time in the grey and bleak post war London out of the service in the cold, he moves like a shadow amongst the ordinary citizens with Liz Gold appearing to be the only one who shows him any warmth during this period.
Liz Gold is naive, but intelligent although she allows herself to be drawn in to East Germany and the plot without realising the immense danger she is in. Liz is in danger for so many reasons; she knows too much even if she doesn’t realise how much she knows, she is Jewish, making her a target for Mundt regardless and she is warm and human.
And indeed the Service is an omnipresent all seeing organisation that as Carre describes makes the reader wonder if the British Service (his) is even colder than their enemies,
‘They would expect him to be afraid; for his Service pursued traitors as the eye of God followed Cain across the desert.’
Carre’s writing is so well crafted and loaded with meaning the book has exceptional pace no word is wasted.
Did you get a book given to you on World Book Night? Have you had a book passed on to you that was originally a World Book Night title? I hope that the books given have been read and will passed on to share great stories, poetry and writers. Check out their site at www.worldbooknight.org.