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"We don't pay a lot, and careers tend to be interrupted. But we do feel it is an important job, as long as one cares about the end, and not too much about the means."
- John le Carré, A Legacy of Spies
Le Carré's fiction career can be roughly be divided into two broad, angry worlds (if we ignore his brief, early attempt at crime fiction): Cold War espionage novels and post-Cold War espionage novels. 'A Legacy of Spies' bridges this gulf with one of the great characters from le Carré's early works (let's call them his Broadway House books) by placing one of the best characters from the Cold War, Peter Guillam, George Smiley's right-hand man, into his post-Cold War period (let's call these books his Vauxhall Trollop books). By doing this, le Carré essentially sets up a novel where the retired "heroes" of the Cold-War "Circus" are judged by the lawyers of Whitehall/Legoland/Vauxhall Trollop.
If you didn't think a fictionalized account of a bureaucratic, HR nightmare could be sexy, well, think again. Le Carré's cold genius is found in his ability to show the moral contradictions involved in espionage work and also place that into context to the modern world. This book allows le Carré to juggle both the moral difficulties of the past (Ends>Means) and contrast that with the current state of Mi6 in the UK (Means>Ends). In his struggle to discover if the means of the past were worth the moral costs, while illuminating if the bureaucratic efficiency of the now is effective or even moral, le Carré discovers one core truth of the Modern World: the lawyers and the bureaucrats have won.
18 of 20 people found this review helpful
Occasionally confusing with frequent time shifts but as always, beautifully crafted, with moments of tension and suitably menacing softly spoken characters. The story as such, as good as any Le Carre. But why did he leave the denouement entirely to our imagination - Le Carre who would without doubt have made it a tour de force ? It seems almost like the writer himself got bored or tired, didn't feel equal to the task of producing one more passage of vintage workmanship. And for me, the Smiley Europe statement rings false, probably because I am disappointed with the European response to Brexit, the "we never really wanted you here in the first place, you have nothing in common with us, and now you've decided to leave we are really going to stick it to you". I don't think that's the Europe that Smiley had in mind.
I have to say that Hollander's reading is outstanding - pacing perfect, he has an ability to bring characters immediately to life with appropriate accents, tones and mannerisms of speach even to the point of producing one character pretending to speak like another.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful