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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your average spy story
A bleak, unusual and compelling thriller. Fans of le Carre will know not to expect car chases and glamour, but this novel also has little of the complexity, puzzle-solving and intrigue of his better known spy stories.
The plot is fairly simple: a small and out-of-favour military intelligence department in London have a potentially huge discovery on their hands - an...
Published on 15 May 2004 by Philip Cowhig

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good stab at a difficult story.
I am a John Le Carre fan - and I've read all of his books - and this one, which has languished behind the blockbusters, has always been my favourite. But it's a difficult story to dramatise. There is no really strong story-line to get hold of. The story is actually a set of sub-stories about betrayal, love, mediocrity and decline. It's a tough book to enjoy in some ways -...
Published on 19 Oct 2009 by Aaron Grantham


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your average spy story, 15 May 2004
A bleak, unusual and compelling thriller. Fans of le Carre will know not to expect car chases and glamour, but this novel also has little of the complexity, puzzle-solving and intrigue of his better known spy stories.
The plot is fairly simple: a small and out-of-favour military intelligence department in London have a potentially huge discovery on their hands - an unconfirmed and sketchy report of Soviet missiles being stored in East Germany (the period is Cold War, early sixties). In a bid to confirm the discovery - and regain some of their former status and credibility - the department decides to find and train an agent to go over the border, something they have not done for many years.
The majority of the book is taken up with the preparation and training for the mission and the shifting politics and loyalties of those involved. This provides a strange mix of convincing technical detail and le Carre's always excellent character sketches and observations on a certain type of English character.
Without giving too much away of the story, the heart of the book is a study of ambition, resentment, jealousies and fading glories in the intelligence community during this period. The outcome of the mission is almost secondary, but the reader can discern the likely outcome as le Carre carefully reveals the endless possibilities of small details and judgements that can mean the difference between success and failure in this environment.
In conclusion, not your average spy story, not typical le Carre, but still engrossing and worth a read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking Glass War, 14 Jun 2010
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This review is from: The Looking Glass War (Paperback)
A brilliant book. Absolutely gripping partly because of the nature of the story - spy fiction - but mainly because of the horrifying stupidity of the Circus higher echelons. It's all portrayed as a bit of a game, Boy's Own heroics, but instead of a grazed knee or a black eye, death and unintentional betrayal are the result. Nobody learns from what has happened, Smiley & Control keep a Godlike distance. There are no heroes, only a grim sort of Valley of Death idea where the only cost is to the poor deluded patriot. This seems more like condemnation than praise but the book is so well written, with such biting mordant humour, that it is a book I shall read again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taut, clever and avowedly unglamourous, 3 April 2001
By A Customer
Although perhaps not as rich or as easy to read as later efforts by Le Carré, I found this book more than occupied me for a 6 hour train journey through Germany. A small department of military spies plans an operation in East Germany, despite the fact their best days are long behind them. The attempt to recapture past glories (in this case from the second world war)in a changed world effectively shows the transience of any moral justification for spying. Apart from the story itself, Le Carré's ability to conjure up images of this worn out organisation with its old-fashioned worthiness is one of the joys of this book. The convincing descriptions of Germany were also highly enjoyable. Whilst reading this book, I happened to be sitting in an ageing train, half expecting my papers to be demanded by surly VOPO officer.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good stab at a difficult story., 19 Oct 2009
By 
Aaron Grantham (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I am a John Le Carre fan - and I've read all of his books - and this one, which has languished behind the blockbusters, has always been my favourite. But it's a difficult story to dramatise. There is no really strong story-line to get hold of. The story is actually a set of sub-stories about betrayal, love, mediocrity and decline. It's a tough book to enjoy in some ways - as the experience of reading is more the journey than the destination. For me this dramatisation did not make enough of Leiser's character and temperament and motive for saying "yes" to the job - there's also some muddled storylines around LeClerc & Woodford, which don't quite demonstrate the preservation of the mediocre against the reality of the outside world which has changed since the war. From a purely personal view I was expecting Haldane's voice to be more sinewy & donnish than the more gruff practical sound that he seems to have - so didn't quite hit the spot for me. I have to say though, for a difficult book it's a great attempt and I've listened to it a few times now.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A personal Le Carré favourite, 19 May 2012
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I haven't read this book in some time but I have read it a number of times in the past, and I've just listened to the BBC's excellent adaptation of it.

Memory of the intricate details of the novel itself fail me: good. Personally I can't bear reviews which simply chart a story's narrative arc almost verbatim. I much prefer a review to give me a sense of the impression of a book, or something like that. The beauty is in discovering for yourself what this is, and one book may mean many things to different people, of course.

One recurring theme of a lot of reviews of The Looking Glass War is how it received a relatively poor reception, how its realism contributed to its failure and the like. I'm tempted to dismiss this as utter nonsense, but being 30 years old I can't quite judge to exactly what degree. Either way, nonsense it is. Its realism is essential to its potency.

To be sure, its immediate predecessor, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, is one of the finest examples of both plot and literature in the English language, a rare beast.

Nonetheless, as far as a novel can describe the bare ignobility of a most subtle human rationale in both personal and political motivation, it suffers no superior, and I believe it serves as a superb key to Le Carré's work, even as (almost contradictorily) it lays the ground for the reader to be even more enthralled by his more densely plotted works.

But therein lies the attraction of John le Carré: contradiction, and humanity. They go hand in hand, don't you think?
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Looking Glass War - Just who are we fighting?, 18 Mar 2010
By 
Victor (Hull, England) - See all my reviews
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This is the fourth of a series of BBC adaptations of all John Le Carre's Smiley books, starring Simon Russell Beale as Smiley. Unlike the other reviewers I've never read the book, so cannot comment on textual accuracy.

The story centres around a Military intelligence unit known as `The Department' and its attempts to relive their glory days of the war whilst simultaneously cocking a snook at their upstart rivals in British Intelligence, the Circus.

When some juicy intelligence suggesting Soviet missiles in East Germany falls into the lap of ageing department leader Leclerc, he is blind to all caution as he tries to resurrect his outfit as a live operational unit, and regain the status lost to the Circus during the cold war years. To get things going he does not need to worry about the Soviets or East Germans, it is the Circus, supposedly on the same side that he needs to outmanoeuvre. The Circus is represented by George Smiley, patiently and indulgently watching over the operation. There are several themes of trust and obedience running through the story, which leads to a tense, if ultimately demoralising, ending.

As with the other dramas in this series, this is a gripping listen. This is due in no small part to the actors - Ian McDiarmid as Leclerc, Philip Jackson as old hand Haldane and Simon Russell Beale as Smiley. Patrick Kennedy shines in the pivotal role of Avery. Ian McDiarmid is especially good as the ambitious Leclerc, remembering the glory days and wanting just another taste. The audio production is excellent, and generally manages to really set the scene, especially in the final tense few minutes with the operative being hunted in East Germany and his handlers waiting anxiously just over the border for any news.

There are two hour long episodes, each on a separate disc, in a normal size jewel case. There are limited liner notes with a short essay about Le Carre and a cast list.

This is a quality production; I look forward to hearing the others in the series.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting cold war relic, 11 Mar 2010
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This review is from: The Looking Glass War (Paperback)
There's a good deal written these days about how Le Carre isn't as good as he used to be, and this is usually put down to the fact that the cold war is over, so he hasn't anything to write about anymore. I partly agree with this opinion, since I think that the late cold war thrillers featuring Smiley as the protagonist are the best things he has done. However, revisiting Looking Glass War is a bit disillusioning for the Le Carre fan, as it doesn't stand up quite as well. There are good things about it. The analysis of the class system dominating the UK at that time makes you realise what a different place England was less than fifty years ago. Characters are usually extremely well drawn, and Le Carre builds up mood effectively, creating a tragic atmosphere of inevitability. Also, more than any other writer, Le Carre makes you realise what a shabby (to use a dated word) business spying really is. Overall, however, Looking Glass War falls short of being satisfying. For a start, and like the superior Spy Who Came in From the Cold, it is a very slight read. 90 per cent of it is build-up to a predictable and largely unsatisfying climax. The characters are nicely sketched, but the author can't settle on one protagonist, which, in a book this short, is fatal. First of all, it's Avery, the idealistic young newcomer in the spy department, who we are supposed to sympathise with, but he's so spineless and bland, that he's difficult to root for. He has a wife whom he ignores, but then the author does too, so we don't care much for her either. He has some sort of thing going with a secretary in the office, but we can't work out what exactly, because it's kept very tasteful and enigmatic. In the last third of the book, Le Carre, like the reader, gets bored with Avery and it's Leiser, the spy they've been training, who rightfully gets the centre stage. Up until then, everyone else has looked down on Leiser, because he is foreign, and not a gentleman, and we never know what he is thinking. Suddenly we are thrust into the cockpit of his mind and expected to sympathise with him. It's a lot to ask in the last two chapters. Basic book mechanics aside, the writing is generally pretty good, but at this stage in his career, Le Carre was obviously angling to be the next Graham Greene. The worst manifestations of this ambition come when hardened spying professionals start sounding like Auden poems in the middle of office meetings, talking about `love' and so forth: embarrassing to read, really. All that said, George Smiley is still Le Carre's most reliable party turn. Every time he walks into a scene, the book gets really interesting. Sadly, all told, there are only about five pages of Smiley in the whole of this novel, which isn't really enough to save it.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A realistic jaunt into espionage, 6 April 2001
By A Customer
Le Carre is famed for his realism, when compared to many other espionage writers. This book followed his huge success with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and was not well received critically. Le Carre felt that this book was the most realistic of all of his novels and he is right. Nothing that you read here is fanciful or contrived, but as a result the novel lacks an edge that le Carre normally would provide. This novel is by no means a bad one, it is maybe a little too realistic and thus missed out on providing the escapism that most people read espionage thrillers for.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another brilliant book by Le Carre, 3 April 2001
By A Customer
Le Carre has a great gift for writing fantastic spy stories. In this book, the department responsible for military intelligence find it necessary to send an agent into East Germany - something that they haven't done for a great many years. George Smiley puts in a few appearances as a guiding hand. The whole book is fantastic and well up to Le Carre's normal standard.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this one, 24 April 2007
By 
BAC (London UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Looking Glass War (Paperback)
This is not perhaps the best-known Le Carre book, but it's my favourite and I recommend it to anyone who hasn't yet discovered it. It has elements in common with 'Tinker Tailor' in that it deals with collective delusion by a group of secret service officials - here, a bunch of second-rate spymasters who decide to run an unauthorised operation. Le Carre has a great gift for portraying vanity and the terrifying lengths people will go to in order to make themselves feel important.
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The Looking Glass War (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Looking Glass War (Penguin Modern Classics) by John le Carré (Paperback - 3 Nov 2011)
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