Le Carre’s Landscape
Tod Hoffman

McGill-Queen’s University Press

The title alone doesn’t indicate this book’s trump card: it’s an in-depth look at the work of the king of the spy writers by a writer who’s been a spy himself. It’s as if Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon had been deconstructed by a critic who was also a matador.

Hoffman, a frequent Gazette contributor and possessor of a pleasingly polished prose style, draws on his experience as an intelligence officer with Canadian Security Intelligence Service to poke and prod at the books of John le Carré, once a spy himself. Having seen firsthand the corrosive effect espionage can have on its practitioners – “all the deceits that secrecy imposes” – Hoffman is all the more appreciative of the emotional veracity of Smiley et al. He points out how le Carré’s skill and overwhelming popularity have led to a blurring of boundaries: the novels draw on the mythology of spying but they’ve ended up influencing how spies themselves view their lives and work.

Remember how the end of the Cold War caused some people to smugly predict the end of le Carré’s career? Hoffman makes a convincing case for just the opposite. The world needs spies more than ever, and the spy story, in le Carré’s own words, is “as flexible (and) as valid as the love story.” mRb