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

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