The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (henceforth referred to as “The Spy”) is one of le Carré’s second novel and the one that made him famous. His first, Call for the Dead in fact preludes to this book, introducing some of the back story that is not so clear in The Spy. However, as I have not read Call for the Dead because I did not realise it was the first, I can safely say that you can read The Spy without having to read Call for the Dead.
The Spy is quite a simple spy story of an aging agent working in East Germany who is given the chance to do one last operation before retirement. It feels very much like a taster of what is to come and leaves you feeling like you want to read more in this series.
Due to not reading the Call for the Dead first, much of the background feels slight ambiguous. I don’t think this detracted from the story for me – instead I feel as if it makes me curious enough to read more. It will be interesting going back and reading about the East German character Mundt – who in this book is a quite a shadowy mysterious character.
I have read le Carré before – The Constant Gardener (excellent) and so have been wanting to read his others for a long time. I have never really read a spy novel before and so this is my first and not my last. The Cold War is an era in history I have always found slightly boring, even though it should have been interesting.
I was born too late to appreciate the Cold War era, but my parents tell me it was quite scary. All I remember in school is that it was the USA and Russia trying to prove which one of them had the biggest bomb. After that I fell asleep.
Spy novels are almost mythological in a way because who really knows what goes on in ‘the circus’ as the SIS headquarters are called in le Carré’s novels.
The MI5 and the SIS (MI6) nowadays have websites and try to come across as all open and friendly. The reality I imagine is quite different, although perhaps not quite as exciting as current spy novels or TV series make it out to be.
I like to imagine what kind of a book The Spy must have been back in the 60’s, and how much it differs reading it then, to reading it now? The Spy has recently been given the authority of a ‘Modern Classic’ whatever that means – I guess that it hasn’t really dated in fifty years and remains popular. It has encapsulated a certain period of history and the human mind that remains as fresh today as it did back then.
The Spy must have been all the more intriguing and exciting in the 1960’s, but even in the 21st Century, it still retains a chilling factor that leaves your blood a little cold when after you finish reading it.