Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Spy who came from the cold

The Spy who came from the cold
By John Le Carre.

Imagine that you are reading the best spy fiction novel out there and wondering - why? Am i not getting it or what? Why is this so special? This loser protagonist who is just ranting that what he did throughout his life has been a failure - how could this novel be so exceptional to be picked by Time as one of the All time Top 100 novels (since 1922). Yet it is and this is exactly how i felt while i was reading the book, up until 80%. 

There are two points here - One. In order for a book to be judged the best spy fiction novel, you have to compare it with other spy fiction novels (famous being James Bond series) and then declare that this one wins. Unfortunately this was my first novel in this genre. So, i had no notes of comparison. Second, when you think of a spy, because of popular fiction out there (again, in particular James Bond), they are so much ingrained with fiction, in terms of spy being a perfect hero, the philanderer where girls are falling over, the dashing hero with fancy gadgets and car, that you seem to believe that it must be true even when you know that it is impossible. 

Thus, when you have pre-conceived notions about a genre mostly by the new age media such as Burn notice, Spy game and James bond series. Along comes a novel that provides a realistic portrayal of the genre, a novel that provides the human side of things - that spies are regular people who are disillusioned,  they often find it difficult to switch between their true identity and the one they are trying to pretend. Spies who find it difficult follow any ideology, who find it difficult to fall in love, have trust issues etc etc. This is what The Spy who came from the cold gives us - a fine grained close view of a life of a spy who is playing and getting played at the same time. It takes some time to realize this but in the end, when all the plots are revealed, you get a sense of the entire story and now it all makes sense. 

I picked this one after watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and instantly fascinated by Gary Oldman's portrayal of George Smiley. A few searches later, i got to know about this one and when it was called the best, i just had to go through it. I felt cheated when the novel said that it is a George Smiley novel even though George Smiley only comes like on 10 pages. 

But the novel shines in the end, when pieces get together and you know that the player is a pawn and nothing else. I would not re-read this novel, will not put in my top list but it was a good read. It is definitely more realistic than generally other fiction novels that i have read so far. 

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