Wednesday, May 15, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Looking Glass War

Title: The Looking Glass War
Author: John le Carré
Image result for looking glass war
via Amazon
John le Carré was highly disappointed in the public reaction to his masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (review here).  While he had intended the book as a demystification of the espionage game, readers, especially in Britain, saw only glamor.  In reaction, he left no doubts in his follow up novel.   

The Looking Glass War reveals a world of incompetence, petty rivalries and unwarranted nostalgia. A fictional military intelligence office referred to as "the Department" gets wind of a possible Soviet missile build up in East Germany.  The book follows their clumsy efforts to confirm the information. 

Interestingly, very little of the text is devoted to the mission itself.  The heft of the material is spent on the training of the eventual agent, a Polish immigrant named Leiser, himself an intelligence veteran of the War.  This part of the story is, in fact, quite interesting as the man is coached in hand-to-hand combat, radio operation, cover maintenance and so forth.  He's not very good at any of it and we also eventually learn many of the methods he's being taught are already obsolete.   But one develops sympathy for him nonetheless, especially as his attachment to Avery, his young, inexperienced and naive handler, develops.  The relationship becomes quite affectionate by the end, leading one to wonder... Le Carré never lets that narrative thread go quite that far.

Our old friend George Smiley plays a supporting role.  His own outfit, "The Circus," has a patronizing and undermining attitude towards the Department.  But Smiley, for his own part, has great sympathy for our bumblers and manages to preserve the respect of the reader just in time for his next story...  The Karla Trilogy, beginning with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Can't wait.


  1. I hope to get to these books some day.

  2. I’ve only read one Le Carre book, “A Legacy of Spies” that was read in a men’s book club. Several of the members who were big spy thriller readers didn’t like it as much as they liked his earlier stuff

    1. I actually started my le Carre adventures with one of his later books: The Night Manager. It was good but I'm glad to know his older books now. They are definitely better.

  3. thank you for introduction of interesting books.
    I should read it