The Department has faded since the war, effectively mothballed, without agents or resources. But now, with intelligence of a possible missile threat, it again has a mission. This is a chance to prove its influence to those at the Circus, like George Smiley, who think the Department’s time has passed. The opportunity to reclaim former glory cannot be missed – even though it means putting men’s lives at desperate risk, on foreign soil.
The Looking Glass War is a gripping story of the amorality of espionage – unflinching in its depiction of the men involved, who are as much full of vanity and fear as of selflessness and courage.I read this as a part of my project to read all the Smiley books. This is probably the first book where Smiley is actually working for the Circus, under the head of that group, Control . In the others, he is retired or has been called out of retirement. Smiley plays a very small part in this one, although he shows up more than in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
I would not have missed this book, but it is pretty much of a downer. It does not glamorize the world of espionage at all. The main characters are all interesting, portrayed with depth, and le Carré tells a compelling story.
In comparison to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Looking Glass War did very poorly, especially in Britain. In le Carré's introduction to this book, written in 1991, he discusses the reception of this book and what he was trying to achieve when he wrote it.
After the success of The Spy I felt I had earned the right to experiment with the more fragile possibilities of the spy story than those I had explored till now. For the truth was, that the realities of spying as I had known them on the ground had been far removed from the fiendishly clever conspiracy that had entrapped my hero and heroine in The Spy. I was eager to find a way of illustrating the muddle and futility that were so much closer to life. Indeed, I felt I had to: for while The Spy had been heralded as the book that ripped the mask off the spy business, my private view was that it had glamorised the spy business to Kingdom Come.One reviewer at Goodreads said this was the bleakest book he had ever read. It is not the bleakest book I have read ... that book for me was The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips. But still, I found The Looking Glass War to be very grim and depressing. I am always looking for some touch of a happy ending and this book had nothing of that for me.
So this time, I thought, I'll tell it the hard way. This time, cost what it will, I'll describe a Secret Service that is really not very good at all; that is eking out its wartime glory; that is feeding itself on Little England fantasies; is isolated, directionless, over-protected and destined ultimately to destroy itself.
List of 'Smiley' Novels (with links to my reviews)
1. Call for the Dead (1961)
2. A Murder of Quality (1962)
3. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963)
4. The Looking Glass War (1965)
5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)
6. The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)
7. Smiley's People (1979)
8. The Secret Pilgrim (1990)
Publisher: Pocket Books, 2002 (orig. pub. 1965)
Length: 271 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Series: George Smiley novel
Setting: East Germany, UK
Genre: Spy thriller
Source: I purchased this book.