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A Legacy of Spies - John Le Carre

Genre: Fiction
Sub-genre: Spy-thriller
Rating: 4.5/5


Sometimes, I really do feel that an intelligence organisation must be very much like any other workplace. What is at balance is certainly much more valuable and capable of altering the course of history. All the same, it is a workplace, an office with employees and clients. 

John Le Carre's Circus is thus a workplace. It behaves as drudgingly as one, and there lies the connect that every single book about this agency elicits in its readers. A Legacy of Spies is fittingly another installment in the legacy of the Circus. The murky past catches up with my beloved Peter Guillam in his retirement years; it unlocks suppressed corners of his heart and makes him revisit the morality of his life's work. I say his, but I really do mean in the plural. 

Le Carre's stories have always been remarkably steeped in cynicism, and part of me believes that we still love them because, in some dark way, they resonate with our daily experiences. Though nothing can surpass The Constant Gardener, nearly every Circus telling ended in heart-breaking tragedy. This book is similar in vein, though admittedly, less agonising. Those who have been fortunate to have read (nearly) all the previous Circus stories would benefit from foreknowledge, which goes some way in assuaging the pain. For the uninitiated, there are certainly some nuances lost.

Peter Guillam is the anchor of A Legacy of Spies. A part of the joy of the book lies in reading his meticulously detailed reports that he had filed back in the heydays. They are simply succulent, as one would expect of the young Guillam. Interspersed are the real-time, present-day version of the agency, battling disdainfully with its veteran for a solution to a legal hot-potato. One does feel slightly annoyed at the brashness and forced sarcasm of the new brigade, but the old guard had really been no better. It could be possible that the softness many of us have towards George Smiley and his little, severely motley team - Peter being the foremost of them - makes us forgive them faster. A Legacy of Spies certainly achieves that end adroitly, through a maze of memories, encounters and long-winded reports. 

As always, the lack of the dramatic is what makes John Le Carre's work so close to heart. His stories are somehow rooted in the banal - in all the tedious paperwork, the grinding office politics and the matters of the heart. No one is a James Bond here. Despite earth-shattering implications, most of his characters seem very ordinary, with very familiar responses and inclinations. What I did miss though, is Smiley's direct presence. Admittedly, Smiley is himself such a larger-than-life figure, that filling the gaps between his last appearance in The Secret Pilgrim and now would perhaps fill a significant number of pages; maybe that is a story for another time.

Meanwhile, A Legacy of Spies manages all too well to retain the brazenness of the Circus and its too-well-known characters. Banking heavily on the circumstances of The Spy Who Came in from The Cold, this story introduces new age characters who,  have not been explored enough (I certainly feel there is some interesting possibility with Leonard the lawyer; . To me, personally, Christoph is worth looking out for). This book is meant as a continuation of a legacy, as it really headlines. There is still a massive knot of loose endings.  But then, nothing is ever really tied off, is it (except in the world of P.G. Wodehouse, which is why we love them so) ?. A Legacy of Spies is there to remind us that our life and our work outlive us, and continue to affect situations beyond our graves. 

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