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The Looking-Glass War by John le Carré

The Looking-Glass War (1965)

by John le Carré

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English (28)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
The Department and the Circus have never been the closest of friends. So when the Department has an opportunity to do its own bit of intelligence work in East Germany (what’s that you say about a missile base?), it seizes the chance. A former agent from the war is trained up and sent over the border, and it’s all rather bleak and world-weary. It’s written well, as is usual with a John le Carré novel; “polished” is the word that comes to mind often when I think of his writing. The structure of the book is neatly done, and the details well chosen as always. But I didn’t really feel as though there was much point to the story. Unless the point was that the whole exercise of sending Leiser in was pointless. Weirdly, I felt like I’d read this before, but perhaps I’m mixing it up with A Small Town in Germany (will have to read that one next). ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jul 11, 2019 |
I know I read this years and years ago, but I didn't remember anything about it. In his introduction to a newish trade paper release, Le Carre says that he wrote this to offset the romanticized view people developed about the spy trade from The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (a view he neither meant nor expected). I can understand how readers turned Alec Leamas into a tragic hero and the story into a romance, but I can also see how that wasn't the author's intention.

So with this book Le Carre allows no doubt and writes about a past-it, self-deluded, incompetent Department (never named) which has been essentially mothballed after the war and replaced by the Circus. He over-eggs the pudding a bit, with no one being likable, happy, or in stable personal situations. We have three main characters in the Department (the hubristic Head, the jaded Old Hand, and the young, still idealistic postwar New Boy). When their courier is killed picking up a film that ostensibly shows the Soviets building missiles in East Germany, the Department sets up a mission to infiltrate an agent into the area. Except they don't really have agents anymore, let alone networks or equipment.

For reasons of its own, the Circus lends the Department expertise and equipment, nothing new but just enough to let the latter continue its dreams of glory, and they recruit a long-retired agent from the war days. There is a lot of detail about the setup and training, too much sometimes, but it is effective in creating context and atmosphere. Most of the action takes place in offices, safe houses, and in Finland, where the original drop was supposed to happen, along with a running subplot featuring the idealistic John Avery and his unhappy marriage.

A bit on the nose at times, and the dialogue can verge on caricatured, but Le Carre captures the dangerous delusions of bureaucrats whose agencies have outlived their purposes, as well as the immense tedium that characterizes everyday spycraft. ( )
  Sunita_p | May 18, 2019 |
This novels is about a spy who goes behind the iron curtain looking for inteligence of some rockets, but what I found more interesting is the way Mr. Carre shows the humanless work that espionage is. ( )
  elicarra | Mar 7, 2019 |
Another well performed Smiley book. The storybis told in le Carres usual understated style, evoking more strongly than previous books the bureaucracy and petty rivalries of the secret world. The characters are very plausible and well developed. ( )
  bevok | Jul 31, 2017 |
Certainly not my favourite John le Carre. I found the training section in the middle of the book particularly tiresome. ( )
  VersionPerson | Dec 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
The spy part of "The Looking Glass War" is, of course, excellent. It concerns a former military espionage department in London (small, left over from the glorious days of World War II) and its struggle to train one of its former agents for a mission into East Germany. The technical background for the mission is well presented. The action itself, once it finally gets under way, is tense and doomed in a gratifying manner; we are given just the right sort of sketch-portrait of Leiser, the special agent. Moreover, as in "The Spy," we are given a strong sense that all this tension, duplicity and personal betrayal exist within the little world of espionage mostly for their own sake and not very much for the sake of the greater political good they are supposed to serve.
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The carrying of a very heavy weight such as a large suitcase or trunk, immediately before sending practice, renders the muscles of the forearm, wrist, and fingers too insensitive to produce good Morse.
—F. Tait's Complete Morse Instructor, Pitman
A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East. — Kipling
For James Kennaway
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Snow covered the airfield.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743431707, Paperback)

John le Carré's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge, and have earned him unprecedented worldwide acclaim. THE LOOKING GLASS WAR Once upon a time the distinction had been clear: the Circus handled all things political while the Department dealt with matters military. But over the years, power shifted and the Circus elbowed the Department out. Now, suddenly, the Department has a job on its hands. Evidence suggests Soviet missiles are being positioned close to the German border. Vital film is missing and a courier is dead. Lacking active agents, but possessed of an outdated mandate to proceed, the Department has to find an old hand to prove its mettle. Fred Leiser, German-speaking Pole turned Englishman -- once a qualified radio operator, now involved in the motor trade -- must be called back to the colors and sent East....

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:30 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Focuses on a former military espionage department in London and its attempts to train an agent for a mission in East Germany.

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Average: (3.59)
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3 83
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141196394, 024196220X

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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