The Atlantic

John le Carré Goes Back Into the Cold

In the author’s latest, spies gain nobility.
Source: Owen Freeman

John le Carré’s triumph (and consequent burden) is that he created characters and language so evocative of the spy world that they became more real in readers’ minds than real people or events. This happens occasionally with books or movies: Our images of the old South are inseparable from the way it was portrayed in Gone With the Wind. It’s said that even real-life members of the Mafia learn how mobsters are supposed to talk by watching The Godfather.

So, too, with le Carré’s books. Intelligence officers nowadays speak of “moles,” the word le Carré popularized for what used to be known as “penetration agents” or “sleepers.” Every reader knows the basics of surveillance tradecraft, thanks to le Carré’s evocation of the “pavement artists” who work for the “Lamplighters” division of the “Circus.” And George Smiley is surely more vivid than any actual senior officer of MI6 ever was. Pity the real-life “C,” who had to compete

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min read
The Fraught Effort To Return To The Moon
NASA wants to put people back on the lunar surface in 2024, but it doesn’t have the budget.
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
The Nationalists Take Washington
Prominent figures from Tucker Carlson to John Bolton gathered at the Ritz-Carlton to declare war on the conservative establishment and lay the groundwork for a new intellectual movement on the right.
The Atlantic5 min read
The Financial Calamity That Is the Teaching Profession
Teachers are suing the government over debt relief that never came—but their financial problems go much deeper than student loans.