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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Le Carre's Masterpiece
"Love is whatever you can still betray... Betrayal is a repititious trade." (from: A Perfect Spy)
Concentrating on his signature themes of love and deceit, Le Carre gives us what is perhaps the definitive account of the psychology of betrayal. Following the death of his father, the disturbed and grieving spy Magnus Pym withdraws from the world and begins a series of...
Published on 9 Mar 2004 by Nullius

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going.
Well written novel but too ponderous and lacking in excitement for my liking.
in order to understand the main character who turns into the perfect spy, it is necessary to read about his childhood and upbringing. This makes the novel very long and seems like two stories spliced together. It is difficult at times to remember where you are in the plot.
I was...
Published on 14 Aug 2010 by Stormbringer


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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Le Carre's Masterpiece, 9 Mar 2004
By 
This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Paperback)
"Love is whatever you can still betray... Betrayal is a repititious trade." (from: A Perfect Spy)
Concentrating on his signature themes of love and deceit, Le Carre gives us what is perhaps the definitive account of the psychology of betrayal. Following the death of his father, the disturbed and grieving spy Magnus Pym withdraws from the world and begins a series of reflections on his life while his wife and spymasters frantically try to find him. The 'public' action of this search, and the personalities of those conducting it not only provide an effective foil for the intensely personal and sometimes dark nature of Pym's inner search, it also amplifies the moral theme of the book--that there is no clear line between good and bad, and that our best intentions are no guarantee of goodness--especially when there are secrets involved.
Le Carre spent a long time honing his voice for this powerful novel. His writing in the decade or so before this book was published (in 1986) displays the trademark qualities of detail and subtlety that a cold war spy needed, and Le Carre's spare prose mirrors the Machiavellian cold war game his stories centre around. In this work--strongly influenced by the real-life death of his father--he reached the height of his powers. On top of his renowned ability to make highly technical plots gripping, Le Carre adds a new quality--the wistful--and it works as well as in anything by Graham Greene--another gimlet-eyed writer who had connections with the spying trade. Le Carre packs more feeling into this work than in all his other novels put together and the effect is both disturbing and intensely moving. Pym is sententious and elegant in his reveries, and his Hamlet-like angst stays with us, provoking difficult questions, long after the book is closed.
A perfect Spy is not a happy tale. The description of the young Pym and his father playing football along a Dorset beach "from one end of the world to the other" is a rare moment of joy that is nevertheless saturated in pathos--for we know that Pym's dissolute father will spoil the moment yet again soon.
Several of Le Carre's previous novels (Small Town in Germany, The Spy who Came in from the Cold, and especially the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy trilogy) are examples of fine literature that just happen to centre around the world of espionage, but since 1980 he has also dropped some Desmond Bagley-ish shoot-em-ups into the mix too, which, although well crafted, rather let his literary reputation down. A Perfect Spy is a first class novel (one reviewer described it as one of the best British novels since the war) and in my opinion remains his finest.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loyalty to who & what?, 11 Jan 2007
This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Paperback)
Spying it seems, although an exciting occupation in some ways, is bad for the soul. If you're hoping to read a gripping, very plotty spy story you're likely to be disappointed with this book. This is a deeply personal but fascinating, philosophical book on the nature of identity, loylaty and love. For me this book is about belonging some where: to a country, to a class, to other people. Pym it seems has been searching all his life for somewhere to live where he feels he belongs. His father, a crook and professional liar is a constant disappointment but probably worst of all a deeply destablising influence in Pym's life so much so that Pym's desperation to please propels him into all sorts of trouble and betrayal.

Gripping, thought-provoking intelligent, semi-autobiographical but not for lightweights.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deceit - Is it in the genes or is it bad parenting?, 12 Aug 2007
By 
Dr. Michael Rowlands (UK/Algarve Portugal) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Paperback)
This is a whopper of a book! A great story - the piercingly honest account of a man both reacting to, and living in, the shadow of a powerful con-man father - with a vivid decription of betrayal and spycraft, and fantastic entertainment as well. But I am thoughly biased, as his prievious work, particlarly early in his writing career, has given me so many hours of pleasure. You can pick holes in it, but I'm not going to. Take it for what it is - a master of fiction treating us to the anatomy of deceit from the inside. He should know - he lived it. A jewel in the crown of Le Carre acheivement and a masterpiece of autobiography.
Dr Michael Rowlands
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book that needed a better editor to be a great one, 19 Dec 2006
By 
Gerard Lynch "paddingtonw2bear" (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Paperback)
The first and most important thing to remember about this book is that it is a semi-autobiography. The background, schooling and parents of the main character of this book are all Le Carre's own, with just the slightest veneer placed over them, and I do mean the slightest. Like Magnus Pym, the main character in this book, Le Carre, for example did have a father who was a crook; his father did fight a by-election in Norfolk under the Liberal colours and was, during it, exposed by an elderly Irishwoman; he did have to leave Eton when his father could no longer afford the fees.

And like Magnus Pym, Le Carre was recruited into MI6 and probably, like Pym, was recruited while studying in Bern, although unlike Pym he left after five years to write novels. However, for anyone who knows a little of Le Carre's life story, an added frisson is added by the questions that inevitably provokes - did Le Carre get up to anything naughty with Eastern Bloc intelligence services? Unlikely, but amusing to ponder.

However, the spy stuff, as beautifully crafted as it always is, is only a backdrop for the real theme of the book - Le Carre's relationship with himself, his father and his country.

Yes, his country; this is as much an elegy for the English upper-middle class as anything else. A melancholy, fatalistic patriotism seeps through every page of the book, as Le Carre writes an elegy for his people - perhaps patriotism isn't quite the write word; he has no feeling for nor interest in the St. George's flag waving, football supporting masses. It's an elegy not for England, but for his England, of `sound' men in tweeds and pipes emerging from Southern country towns to rule colonies; of the respectable sadism of the public school; of the sense of duty of a military class that has all but disappeared. The theme of fallen empire runs through all Le Carre's works, but nowhere more strongly than through this one and does so with characteristic brilliance.

With regards to his father and himself, he says what he may not have been able to say for decades, even to himself, before, and his writing bursts forth in great, emotional, torrents. Some of it moving and powerful; some of it is unnecessary but quirkily interesting; and some of it, frankly, is twaddle that needed a good editor to batter into shape. But this was Le Carre's magnum opus, and bestselling authors are allowed a little latitude in their magna opera. That's a pity, because this could have been a great book; but at times it takes a chapter to say what a sentence should have; and at times it is so hopelessly self-indulgent that it sends one to sleep.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Came late to this, 18 Sep 2009
By 
D. Clark (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Paperback)
I bought this book about a week ago, and hadn't realised it had been in the public domain since 1986. Neither did I realise it was semi autobiographical until I read the comments above.

Forgetting all of that ignorance, I thought it was, on its own terms a genuinely witty tale and an elegy not just to one lost generation but to two, the tragi-comic con man of the 30's and 40's and the put upon public schoolboy who goes awry. These are characters that don't seem to exist anymore, but Le Carré makes them as real as tommorrow.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect story, 19 May 2008
By 
Jeremy Walton (Sidmouth, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Hardcover)
I bought this when it first appeared in 1986 (and have been first in line for every Le Carre since then), read it a couple of times, and have dipped into it occasionally over the years. I re-read it last week and was reminded all over again of Le Carre's great gift for description and dialogue. With just a few words, he can give you the voice (and a lot about the character, nationality and background) of the person speaking so exactly that they become instantly familiar. This rich vein runs throughout his writing, but it's particularly noticable when he describes a meeting - as here, when representatives from the Americans and British secret services are discussing the whereabouts of Magnus Pym, the perfect spy of the title.

The story is a kind of autobiography, as Pym sets out to describe his life's journey for his son, aiming - for once - to avoid any duplicity in the telling; in addition, as others have pointed out, it contains many elements from Le Carre's own life - his crooked father, his education in Berne and Oxford, and his career in MI6. If, at the end of this memorable book, we feel we don't understand Pym as well we do the other characters we've met - his wife, his father, his handlers (British and Czech) and his American colleagues, that could be the greatest tribute to Le Carre's powers: to have given such a detailed account of every aspect of his life, and yet to have retained an air of mystery around him.

Rereading this book, I had a mild sense of nostalgia for the era it describes. I was fortunate enough to visit Czechoslovakia not long after it was published, and a couple of years before the Velvet Revolution, after which the country became (amongst other more worthy things) yet another location for Planet Hollywood, Borders and cheap stag weekends.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy going., 14 Aug 2010
By 
Stormbringer (Wolverhampton, U.K.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Paperback)
Well written novel but too ponderous and lacking in excitement for my liking.
in order to understand the main character who turns into the perfect spy, it is necessary to read about his childhood and upbringing. This makes the novel very long and seems like two stories spliced together. It is difficult at times to remember where you are in the plot.
I was impressed with the authors style of writing though, LeCarre's character descriptions in particular are superb so I would not be put off reading more of his work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Stolen Identity, 10 Feb 2014
This review is from: A Perfect Spy (Paperback)
A Perfect Spy is the story of Magnus Pym, a spy employed by the UK secret services, but in fact supplying secret information to the Czechs. Written effectively as a dual narrative with Magnus Pym providing a memoir of his life, alternating with the search by his wife, Mary, and boss, Jack Brotherhood.

The story is far more than a spy thriller. It is a complete analysis of what made Magnus Pym into the man he is. The dysfunctional childhood with a bizarre, almost Falstaffian, father. It shows how defective attachment plays a part in giving Pym both problems in identity and in love, summarised beautifully by an old school friend. ‘Didn’t care about money. Love was all he cared about. Didn’t know where to find it.’

The inimitable Le Carre style makes this a more testing read and at six hundred and eighty pages it is a substantial work, but if you enjoy understanding the motivation and psychology of a perfect spy, then this is a peerless example.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent BBC radio adaptation of le Carre, 15 Mar 2012
By 
S. Lindgren - See all my reviews
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Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The majority of the BBC adaptations of John le Carre's works have been excellent, and this one is no exception. A Perfect Spy has been called le Carre's masterpiece. I don't know about that. Possibly. It's unquestionably one of his finest works; convoluted, grim, and beautifully paced, and the majority of the atmosphere has been preserved here. The script has been sympathetically adapted, the cast give solid performances, and you can easily loose yourself in it for a few hours. Well worth getting hold of.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for a journey, 22 Feb 2012
By 
purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a review of the BBC Audio CDs of the 1993 BBC radio play adaptation of John Le Carre's novel. There are 4 CDs in this boxed collection.

I listened to this in the car over the course of a couple of long journeys and for me it was perfect for this, holding my attention completely and giving a fascinating insight into the 'Firm'; British Intelligence. Magnus Pym, the Perfect Spy, goes to his father's funeral and doesn't come back, throwing his colleagues into a spin, with the possibility that he has 'turned'. The narrative strands move between Magnus, holed up, with a seaside landlady and writing his novel/memoir exploring his relationship with his con man of a father, a 'colourful personality', and his long relationship with another father figure in his life, his agent on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Meanwhile, yet another father figure, Jack Brotherhood, his mentor in the service, tracks down and questions key people in his history.

James Fox is perfect as Magnus Pym and there is a strong cast: Harriet Walter and Julian Rhind-Tutt are also excellent. I agree with another reviewer that this adaptation by Rene Basilico does not make us really feel the charisma of Rick Pym, Magnus'scad of a father. Nonetheless this is a very strong pridcution and if it leads you to the book A Perfect Spy and the TV adaptation A Perfect Spy: Complete BBC Series (3 Disc Box Set) [DVD] then that's all the better.
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A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré (Paperback - 20 Jan 2000)
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