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John Le Carre
Review of The Russian House


John Le Carre, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell was born on 19th October, 1931 at Poole, Dorsetshire. He had a very bitter childhood. When John was six years old, his mother deserted him. His father was frequently in and out of jail. Despite these family problems, he completed his education from Oxford and taught at Eton for two years. Then, he joined the Foreign Service. 
                                                                                     His earliest novels were conventional thrillers beginning with Call for the Dead (1961) introducing the well known secret agent George Smiley who appears in many of his later books. But it was The Spy who came from the Cold (1963), a cold-war thriller which brought him immediate fame. 
                         John got married to a woman named Jane and has got four sons and ten grandchildren. At present, he lives in Cornwall and Hampstead. In 1987, he first visited Russia and called his journey as "the most exciting single cultural leap I ever made".


Call For The Dead (1961, featuring Smiley)
A Murder of Quality (1962, feat. Smiley)
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963, feat. Smiley)
The Incongruous Spy (1963?, Omnibus)
The Looking Glass War (1965, feat. Smiley)
A Small Town In Germany (1968)
The Naive and Sentimental Lover (1971, not a spy story)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974, feat. Smiley)
The Honourable Schoolboy (1977, feat. Smiley)
Smiley's People (1979, feat. Smiley)
The Quest for Karla (1982, omnibus)
The Little Drummer Girl (1983)
A Perfect Spy (1986)
The Russian House (1989)
The Secret Pilgrim (1990)
The Night Manager (1993)
Our Game (1995)
The Tailor of Panama (1996)
Single and Single (1999)
The Constant Gardener (2000)


"The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is the best spy story I have ever read."- Graham Greene


The Russian House
Rev. by Paul Gray
-Time, May 29, 1989

Under interrogation, quite a few members of John Le Carre's vast and devoted reading public might confess a gnawing secret: the wish that the author would get on with his stories a bit more speedily than he has been doing for the past 15 or so years. Ever since Tinker, Tailor , Soldier, Spy (1974), in this view, Le Carre has been unduly shifting emphasis from action to atmospherics; his espionage plots remained splendidly inventive, but they arrived splintered into ambiguities worthy of Henry James. Which was fine, maybe, for those who wanted their cold war shenanigans decked out in the trappings of The Golden Bowl. But what was wrong with the heart-stopping pace of The Spy Who Came In The From The Cold (1963)? And will it ever come again?
                                                                                                    Nothing was wrong with it, of course, and it is back for sure in The Russian House. Scarcely a dozen pages into this novel, Le Carre's twelfth, a document of potentially enormous importance has been passed from East to West during an exhibit of audiocassette wares in Moscow. Three grubby notebooks full of highly technical drawi8ngs and mathematical notations also contain some eye-popping assertions: "The American strategists can sleep in peace. Their nightmares cannot be realised. The Soviet knight is dying inside his armour." If true, such statements and the accompanying evidence pointing out the military incompetence of the U.S.S.R. will obviously have profound effects on Western defense politics. On the other hand, the whole thing could be just another piece of devious disinformation. 
                                                                                                                 The task of deciding which it is initially falls on British intelligence; the notebooks have fetched up in London, intended for a seedy and temporarily missing publisher named Bartholomew Scott Blair, known familiarly as Barley. The first priority is to find him. The second is to grill him until he admits his involvement in a duplicitous plot. Failing that, the third imperative is to enlist Barley as a spy and send him off to discover more about his mysterious Soviet informant.
               The publisher seems particularly ill-suited for such an assignment. His life so far has been a model of irresponsibility: heavy drinking, an accumulation of debts, ex-wives and mistresses. But Barley is not the only odd man out. Witnessing and narrating these events is Horatio Benedict dePalfrey, lawyer who has spent the past 20 years of his career papering over the questionable deeds of the secret service, mopping up after the people he calls espiocrats. "I am quickly dealt with," he writes of himself. "You need not stumble on me long." To the contrary. He, "old Harry" or "old Palfrey" to his colleagues, is one who shapes this story, colors it with his own disillusionments, invites credibility through his own refusal to believe in much of anything at all. And, early on, he drops a crucial hint about what is to come, portraying himself in his nondescript office "while I draft our official whitewash of the operation we called the Bluebird."
                                                                             This touch alone reveals the reason why Le Carre makes all his alleged competitors- the Ludlums, the Clancys, the Trevanians, even the Deightons- look like knuckle-typers. Palfrey is describing a failure, an intricate scheme that collapses somewhere along the tortuous road plotted for its success. The world will not be saved, love will not triumph, and tomorrow will dawn with the same grimy sense of indeterminate morals and motives as yesterday. This much is certain. What remains to be discovered is the marvelously engrossing way in which everything can can go wrong.
          So. Barley passes muster with the British crew and later with the CIA, but not before protesting, "I thought the Cold War was supposed to be over." Back in the Soviet Union, seeking out the woman who had forwarded the presumptive secrets and trying to get at their source,  he encounters glasnost and perestroika everywhere he turns. One Moscow literary type wonders, "When will they start repressing us again to make us comfortable?" Another informs him, "We have no more problems! In the old days we had to assume that everything was a mess! Now we look in our newspapers and confirm it!" Barley must tunnel beneath this thawing surface, test how far takes it to get to the chilling center underneath. 

                           It is impossible to tell, from page to page, just how this improbable hero will perform his role, not only for the nervous intelligence officers monitoring his every move but for the readers as well. With scarcely an intimation of sex, no violence and not a side arm visible, Le Carre has gain managed to construct a plot of commanding suspense. Never before has he so successfully merged his narrative and contemplating gifts. The Russian House is both afire and thought provoking, a thriller that demands a second reading as a treatise on our times.


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