Call for the Dead

Call for the Dead (1961) by John le Carré is a classic spy novel – not my regular genre. It’s the first in a series revolving around George Smiley. I actually have a lot of good things to say about this book! Much to my surprise.

“He knew how intelligent men could be broken by the stupidity of their superiors, how weeks of patient work night and day could be cast aside by such a man”

Firstly, I could relate to a toady spymaster from the 60’s. How? Because le Carré would include insightful little nuggets that are totally worth unpacking. A little slice of politics here, a musing on society’s constructs there, a wisp of the nature of love, a discussion of race and gender looming like a storm-cloud on the horizon. The protagonist appreciates obscure German poetry, a quirk that endeared him to me endlessly. And the quote above is literally how I feel at the office everyday, my light and passion squandered in front of endless Excel sheets.

“Everything he admired or loved had been the product of intense individualism .. when had mass philosophies ever brought benefit or wisdom?”

Pace was just right. Plot was satisfying enough. Light read. This foray into the realm of international espionage in the 30’s paid off. I enjoyed the plot, the brevity, the writing. I predict I’ll be reading a couple more of le Carré’s works in the future. I liked this a lot more than Agatha Christie if I’m being honest.

“But gossip must see its characters in black and white, equip them with sins and motives easily conveyed in the shorthand of conversation”

This quote also really resonated with me. People love reducing lives and choices to juicy morsels of scandal. Gossip is contagious and Doha is a breeding ground.

“Can’t you see it’s the same? The same guns, the same children dying in the streets? Only the dream has changed, the blood is the same colour. Is that what you want?”

What’s really funny about reading novels written before the millennial mark is that they always have sentences that would today be considered outrageous or politically incorrect. It always makes me laugh to myself (even if I’m offended) because of the mini shock factor, and shows how I really am a product of the SJW (social justice warriors) error. Also, it makes me wonder if literature today is affected by this self-censorship, with so many opinions being classified as taboo or offensive. Does our creative content suffer because of the hypersensitive loudmouths today?

“It’s like the State and the People. The State is a dream too, a symbol of nothing at all, an emptiness, a mind without a body, a game played with clouds in the sky. But States make war, don’t they, and imprison people? To dream in doctrines – how tidy!”

The backdrop of the worldwar, the Germans and Communism also added depth to the storyline. I guess I’ll always be an International Affairs major at the end of the day. Le Carre was eloquent in depositing little nutshells of deep political concepts. You can read this book at the surface and enjoy it, or unpack it at your own leisure.

“They loved each other and believed they loved mankind, they fought each other and believed they fought the world.”

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