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A Perfect Spy Paperback – 20 Jan 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 123 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New edition edition (20 Jan. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340766506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340766507
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.5 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,633,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Without doubt his masterpiece . . . a perfect work of fiction' (Sunday Times)

'The best English novel since the war' (Philip Roth) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Without doubt his masterpiece ... a perfect work of fiction.' (The Sunday Times)

'Le Carré’s best book, one of the enduring peaks of imaginative literature in our time.' (Los Angeles Times)

'Le Carré’s best book, and one of the finest English novels of the twentieth century.' (Phillip Pullman) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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.
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By Jeremy Walton TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 May 2008
Format: 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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