The Looking Glass War: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels Book 4) by [le Carré, John]Title: The Looking Glass War
Author: John LeCarré
Genre: Espionage Thriller
Pages: 290
Rating: 3.5 of 5

It’s time for the next installment in my read-through of the George Smiley Books (you can find my reviews of the first three books here). In The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, LeCarré made an effort to show the ugly, amoral side of the intelligence game. Dissatisfied with the effect (since some readers still regarded some of the characters as heroic), he wrote this bleak spy yarn.

Rather than the relatively competent intelligence agency known as the Circus (basically MI6), this book centers on “The Department.” The Department is a pathetic remnant of an agency that ran military intelligence during WWII. It is now filled with stodgy, self-important old men (and one young man) who do very little besides archive the occasional intelligence report and dream of the good old days as the Circus gradually takes over more and more of what they used to handle (Smiley, Control, and others from the Circus make some appearances as the two agencies interact).

When a potentially important report of highly questionable authenticity crosses the director’s desk he sees it as an opportunity to run an operation and return to the glory days (the way it was “during the war”). What follows is an incredible display of incompetence and disregard for human life driven by pride, nostalgia, and inter-agency jealousy. You could almost call it a farce, but it isn’t at all funny…just pathetic and depressing.

Overall, the book is well-written, and the characters ring sadly true…it’s just incredibly bleak.

7 thoughts on “Recapturing the Glory Days

    1. Yeah, in this one LeCarré definitely wants to make sure that we all share his sense of disillusionment. The characters are so far from doing anything worthwhile that it’s just sad. Unfortunately, I’ve seen incredibly similar attitudes in more than one local church clinging to their glory days. rather than seeking to minister where they are at right rang depressingly true to life.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And another reason to NOT read such stuff. Why fill your mind with such stuff when you can just out the window and see it? 😉

        I have to say, it is good to see that that kind of thing doesn’t overwhelm you. I know it would completely crush me. I guess that’s one more reason you are where you are at and I am where I at 😀


      2. I debated whether to re-read this particular one or not, knowing how bleak it is, but I want to read through the whole George Smiley story-arc in order so I decided on including it. Even though there’s always a lot of moral ambiguity and human cost with LeCarré’s stories, it is usually accompanied by a pleasingly thinky cat-and-mouse game where it’s not always clear who’s the cat and who’s the mouse…which is why I usually like him despite the oppressive world-weariness.

        Dark literature usually doesn’t overwhelm me…though a steady diet isn’t great for the soul. I figure that at the very least it can serve the same kind of instructive purpose as some of the darker stories in the Bible (e.g. the book of Judges where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”).


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