The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre

The Looking Glass War cover

The Looking Glass War by John le Carre was first published in 1965. This is the third le Carre book that I’ve read and it’s the one that I least liked, it seems that I’m not alone in that as le Carre said that “his readers hated me for it”, but he was cheered by the fact that it went down better with American readers. I suspect that this tale is just too near the truth for most Brits to want to accept. The two government military intelligence departments involved are rivals, don’t share information and a lot of mistakes are made.

A Soviet defector claims that the Soviets are positioning missiles at Rostock close to the West German border. That information is treated as suspect and in an attempt to get some clarification an airline pilot is paid to divert his plane over Rostock to get photographs of the area. The intelligence officer sent to pick up the film is killed in a hit and run accident but this is interpreted as being a murder by the Stasi. A lot of the book is about a Polish officer being trained to go into the east to send radio messages back to London. Almost as soon as he gets there things go wrong. It’s not going to end well.

This book was written as a satire but mainly hasn’t been read as such.

It shows that lives were/are cheap but as the reader is involved with the spy and the relationship between him and the man training him then the casual lack of loyalty leaves a bad taste in the mouth. For that reason I found it quite depressing particularly as John le Carre was an MI5 and MI6 agent himself and he said it was an accurate representation of his own experiences. It sounds like ‘botched’ is the operative word.

Not long ago the man at the top of such things nowadays gave a speech at St Andrews University, saying that you didn’t have to be an Oxbridge graduate to be recruited by them. I’d advise anyone to just say NO.

3 thoughts on “The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre

  1. When I read his “new,” as in 1991 introduction to A Small Town in Germany he said that the novel was heavily criticized for being too anti-German. That one was first published in 1966.
    He revealed things about the leadership of the West German leadership that Americans, I know for sure, did not know then, and which we did not fully learn until after the Berlin Wall fell, that the former Allied nations propped up former Nazis to run the post-war West German gov’t, Adenauer being the prime example.
    As an author, I think one of his major strengths is that he is so straight-forward, and he doesn’t mince words or pussy-foot around the important issues of that time. Yes, people’s toes are pinched by it. Believe me, from my research, no country came out smelling like a rose at the end of WWII or during the Cold War, the U.S. least of all.
    I think he broaches some of the perplexities of these issues in his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel. That book gave me chills, just because he was so bare-bones about it all, yet unsentimental, yet feeling deeply.

    • Judith,
      I didn’t even realise he had written a memoir, I must track it down. I think I’ve always known that a lot of Nazis were allowed to have positions of authority after the war, for various reasons. I think it was completely wrong. I only know south Germany and I have to say that when I visited Bavaria for the first time in 1970 I was really shocked that basically they were all still Nazis and proudly displayed their Nazi medals. They’re on the rise again too.

  2. Pingback: The #1965Club is here! – Stuck in a Book

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