Friday 4 March 2011


During the 1950s and the 1960s, there was a man working for MI5 and MI6, he lived with the human cost of what it meant to be a spy. Unsurprisingly, considering the official secrets act which undoubtedly he’d signed, when D**** J M C******* began writing novels about spies he did so using a pseudonym. 

I imagine he had less difficulty maintaining multiple lives, if not multiple personalities.

 "John le Carré" wrote The Spy who Came in from the Cold. This is one of the 25 great novels being handed out free for World Book Night. Tonight, he will sidle into Trafalgar Square and read an excerpt although, perhaps, no one will see him arrive and his exit will be made when the eyes of the media are turned elsewhere ;)

This is one of the three novels selected to represent the best of “modern,” accessible and great literature that I have read. My shame is vast and heavy. I have purchased Seamus Heaney - Selected Poems, Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Gabriel García Márquez - Love in the Time of Cholera and Yann Martel - Life of Pi. They are piled up on the bedside table, ready to make sure I never get any sleep (after I read the last 20 pages of Linger – Maggie Stiefvater then Neil Gaiman’s - The Graveyard Book and Anthony Horowitz – Necropolis which the library caffeinated me with this week;) However, enough of my addiction.

The Spy who Came in from the Cold is the story of Alec Leamas, an aging British spy. It is set in the grimm-grey, seedy parts of London, Berlin and East Germany (the old GDR) in the early 1960s.  For a book that is best described as lean it contains a complex plot that hints and teases with flashes of clues and drags the reader into the human side of the spy game at heart-pumping pace.

It is the affects of spying on the man, Leamas, and the difficulties of the life style that holds the heart of the work: finding the black and white while submersed in the grey and amoral nature of the game he is playing: fighting in The Cold War. Alec - is not open to the reader not even to himself - Leamas is cagy and secretive. He must shroud reality and be what he has to be. His world is chilling.

Happy World Book Night - a million reasons to read a book.



  1. Sounds interesting! I'll have to look that one up!

  2. That's a book I've been wanting ti read for a long time. In fact, I looked for it a my soon-to-closed Borders, but they didn't have it.

    Also, I've had Life of Pi on my bookshelf for about two years now. I just keep forgetting about it.

  3. Hi Becky
    It is well worth a read. I was re-reading The Spy who Came in from the Cold, this week. My first thought, after the first line, was "It starts with dialogue?" I'd forgotten. It seemed so wrong ;)

    Hi Dan
    Ratchet up my shame! ;) I knew nothing about it until I bought it - and I bought it because it came with WBN's serious recommendation ;)

  4. I am trying to remember if I read that one... I've some spy novels but I don't think that one. I'm reading Gustave Flaubert's 'Salammbo' right now which is heavy on history and war-- it's interesting although I was expecting more love story than it actually is. I hope you blog on 'One hundred Years', I'll be interested in hearing what you think... I've read it twice now and find it amazing. 'Life of Pi' is also quite stunning so again, can't wait to hear what you think of them!

  5. Hi Danette
    Thanks for the recommendations on the WBN reading material. It will help me order them. Wow! Salammbo sounds like a dense read but I could be almost tempted.
    (Spot the historian.)
    When we went on holiday to Tunisia, I dragged the family, on public transport, from beachy heaven to Tunis and thence to Carthage. "Great! Like a castle but flatter and bigger!" They weren't as impressed as I was.