I had never read a spy novel. I’d assumed they consisted of numerous chase scenes and gun fights – just like the Bond films my husband loves but I find tedious and repetitive. I’m always willing to confront my prejudices so when Annabel selected The Spy Who Came in from the Cold as her book of the year I decided to give it a try. It was very different from my expectations, but I’m afraid I don’t think I’m a fan of spy stories.
I was immediately struck by the quality of the writing. For some reason I’d expected it to be fast paced and of an average writing quality, but I was wrong. The pace was actually quite slow and contained many descriptive passages. I really enjoyed reading the beginning of the book and getting to know Leamas, the disgraced agent asked to perform one last mission.
Unfortunately the book went downhill as it progressed. Too many characters were introduced and I struggled to follow who they were. I have since discovered that earlier books introduced many of these people and I think knowing their backgrounds would have been hugely beneficial to appreciating this book.
I also came to realise that real spying bares little resemblance to James Bond films. Real spying is quite dull – it involves a lot of time waiting and making complex negotiations with others. I became bored with the lack of action and increasingly reluctant to continue reading.
I thought the last chapter was fantastic, but I’m afraid it was too little too late.
Annabel’s review indicates that she is a big fan of spy novels: she has read many of Le Carré’s other books and has watched the film. I have a feeling that this all contributed to her increased enjoyment of the book as I’m sure it gets better the more you understand the motivations of the numerous characters. I’m pleased that I’ve read this modern classic, but I’m afraid I’m not going to be rushing to read more spy stories.