A Perfect Spy (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
In the years since the start of the Cold War, the spy thriller has emerged as a consistently popular literary genre, with the elaborate exploits of Ian Fleming’s James Bond setting the tone for espionage novels of the 1960’s and Robert Ludlum’s tales of international conspiracies regularly topping the best-seller lists of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The novels of John le Carré, however, stand apart from the rest of the genre, defying classification as mere spy thrillers through their author’s insistence on plot as a natural outgrowth of character development. For le Carré, tales of espionage serve primarily as a setting for explorations of the human psyche, and the key factor in each of his novels is not the mechanics of betrayal but what Graham Greene has called “the human factor”—those quirks of character and background that can never be discounted in matters of individual behavior.
In le Carré’s novels, the emphasis is always on the traitor rather than on the secret he betrays, and disloyalty to one’s country is often seen as an extension of smaller personal betrayals. Friend betrays friend, wife betrays husband, parent betrays child, forming a complicated pattern of which treason is only one thread. For Magnus Pym, the central figure in A Perfect Spy, treason is an action that seems the logical conclusion of a childhood...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Atkins, John. “Le Carré’s People,” in The British Spy Novel: Styles in Treachery, 1984.
Atkins, John. “The World of John le Carré,” in The British Spy Novel: Styles in Treachery, 1984.
Conroy, Frank. “Sins of the Father,” in The New York Times Book Review. XCII (April 13, 1986), p. 1.
le Carré, John. “The Clandestine Muse,” in Johns Hopkins Magazine. August, 1986, pp. 11-16.
Lelyveld, Joseph. “Le Carré’s Toughest Case,” in The New York Times Magazine. March 16, 1986, p. 40.
Lewis, Peter. John le Carré, 1985.
Monaghan, David. The Novels of John le Carré, 1985.
Rutherford, Andrew. “The Spy as Hero: Le Carré and the Cold War,” in The Literature of War: Five Studies in Heroic Virtue, 1978.
(The entire section is 109 words.)