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The Looking Glass War (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 3 Nov 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (3 Nov. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141196394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141196398
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A book of rare and great power (Financial Times)

A devastating and tragic record of human, not glamour, spies (New York Herald Tribune)

Book Description

Bestselling Master of Espionage, John le Carré reads John le Carré.

'A book of rare and great power'
FINANCIAL TIMES

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
'It's so easy," observes George Smiley, "to get hypnotised by technique."

The technique Smiley referring to is spy craft, but I could not help feeling that it might also be an oblique comment on the way that a reader can be hypnotised by the technique of a writer. There were several moments midway through this book when I thought seriously about putting it down and not picking it back up again, and it was only my faith in Le Carré's technique that kept me turning the pages.

This is not because it's a bad book. On the contrary, it's acutely observed, beautifully written, alternately moving and gripping. But it is deeply and pervasively bleak.

I read somewhere that the secret to creating a successful best-seller was to focus on characters who were supremely good at what they did. "The Looking Glass War" turns this premise on its head. George Smiley, Le Carré's ultimate master spy, makes only fleeting visits to these pages, and The Circus (Le Carré's term for the Secret Service) acts as a distant, if not always disinterested, by-stander. Most of the book's attention is focused on "The Department", a clandestine, and not very clearly identifed, adjunct of the British Government which enjoyed some years of glory during WWII, but clings on without any real purpose in the Cold War Europe of the 1960s.

The employees of The Department are not wicked. They believe (or try to believe) that the work they do, collating military intelligence from beyond the Iron Curtain, is important and right. But they are weak, self-serving, more concerned with office politics at home than with the mortal consequences of the work they do abroad. Worst of all they are hopelessly outclassed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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