Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Book Review: The Russia House

Read another John le Carré book recently—The Russia House. As usual, I loved the book. This is three le Carré novels I’ve read so far, and I loved them all.

The Russia House is an actual spy novel—as you might remember from previous reviews, the other books I’ve read were not spy novels per se, although Absolute Friends definitely had some “spy novelesque” qualities. (You can see the review for Absolute Friends here, and the review for The Constant Gardener here.) However, even in The Russia House, le Carré is not writing the typical spy novel. Yes, there is a spy, and yes, he goes deep into Russia, under cover, and yes, there is danger. But much of the book takes place in the preparation for the mission, not on the mission itself, and then much of the rest of the novel takes place in the debriefing room, after the mission. You could say that the entire novel takes place in the characters’ heads, because the book is much more interested in exploring the characters than the situations.

The other thing this novel brings, which many spy novels don’t go into, is the relation between the British intelligence community and the American intelligence community. In a previous life, before le Carré was an author, he was an intelligence agent, and I think he brings this experience into his writing in a very effective way—not just to thrill the reader, but to give the reader a good behind the scenes look at intelligence.

So this is three le Carré books I’ve read so far, and three winners. Unfortunately, I’m not putting Absolute Friends or The Russia House in my Recommended Reading list, since they’re of more limited appeal, but if you’re into spy novels, I highly recommend them. They make a nice change of pace from an author like Robert Ludlum, who is all fast-paced and adventure—you have to slow your mind down, a bit, to read le Carré, but it’s worth it, because he writes like a man who enjoys writing. Which means that, as a reader, I enjoy the books more too.