The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carré (Victor Gollanz and Pan, 1963)
“We have to live without sympathy, don’t we? That’s impossible of course. We act it to one another, all this hardness; but we aren’t like that really, I mean…one can’t be out in the cold all the time; one has to come in from the cold…d’you see what I mean”
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is the story of a complicated under cover mission perpetrated by the British Secret Service against its enemies in communist East Germany. The protagonist is Alec Leamas, a veteran spy grown weary of the interminable daily duplicity of his life as an agent, who agrees to undertake one final mission before he retires from his double life to “come in from the cold”.
It is a very exciting read, but it’s not just the daring adventuring of Alec Leamus that provides the thrills – attempting to follow and unravel the elusive and multifarious complexities of the story and of the motivations of Alec’s task masters is equally as exhilarating. The story of Alec’s mission can be confusing. Much of the information a reader requires to follow the twists of the tale is implied. The story is positioned in a hard, cold, unrelentingly grey environment; a dank, dark London and a cold East Berlin form the backdrop. There’s not much give. Nothing comes easy, there is little light or softness to ease your troubled, question filled mind along the way. However, there’s something incredibly satisfying about extracting the human motivations and truths from this stark scape. The little flares of light, the glimpses of humanity, and the moments when you understand (or at least think you understand) what is happening are flashes of sheer delight.
I reached the end of this book whilst on a long train journey. I was so stunned by the finish, I found myself sitting with my mouth agape (actually agape), desperately looking round for someone to talk to about it. It’s an enthralling, edge of your seat narrative cleverly populated with intriguing, sad characters. I loved it and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.