Sunday, January 23, 2011

"A Perfect Spy" by John LeCarre

Published: 1986
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: England
Rating: 4
Review: Goodreads
John Le Carre's web site

Was very helpful to read other Goodreads comments after starting the book as I found it quite confusing.  But really liked it once I got used to the deuces: two people Pym was writing to (Tom/Jack), the switching of persons telling the story (first person/third person), and the two time periods (past/present).   Hated the ending but it made perfect sense.  Also, as the book unfolded, Pym's profound decisions became clear too.  My question at the end was this: how did he become who he was?  First thought was 50% innate character, 40% father and 10% Jack/Axel.  Then I thought 25% Pym, 75% father and 25% Jack/Axel.  The latter makes more sense.   Would highly recommend.

Story Synopsis

The story begins with Magnus Pym as Mr. Canterbury, one of his many aliases in Devon.  He has holed up to write the truth about his life, before either of his handlers, Jack Brotherhood from MI5 or Axel (Czech handler) can find him.  He is writing for himself - tired of the deceit and games, and he writes for his son, Tom.  He will not be captured alive so once capture is imminent, at the end of the book, he shoots himself - a double agent.   The book is a record of Pym’s memories as he attempts to answer the following questions through frenetic autobiographical writing, basically how he justifies his decisions

  • who he is and why he is the way he is (how can deceit come so easily and naturally to him)
  • the influence of his father, Richard Pym, con-man supreme
  • how he became a British spy working for the “firm”
  • How he married Mary, who also works for the firm
  • how he became a double agent, working for Axel
Other books by author: 
  • The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)
  • Smiley’s People (1979)
  • A Most Wanted Man (2010)

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