Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Le Carré sounded an entirely new note in espionage fiction in the 1960’s, notably in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), which served as a realistic counterpoint to the fantasies of Ian Fleming’s slick James Bond novels. His realistic treatment of the Cold War and its warriors and of fieldwork and trade-craft in his novels reflects a world of espionage devoid of glamour and sensational adventure but filled with an uneasy sense of disillusionment. Le Carré has successfully infused all of his spy fiction with the existential anxieties of the age set against a background of the decline and collapse of Empire, the frustrations inherent in political bureaucracy, and the apparent pointlessness of individual life. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, Smiley’s quest after the truth of situations and his clandestine investigations in the archives of the Circus and of the mind serve to give some meaning to the present by rehearsing and reordering the past, by shoring up fragments against the ruins of the present. These novels take their rightful place not only among the best in the subgenre of spy fiction but also in the larger tradition of the twentieth century postmodern novel.