A Perfect Spy: the novel

Background color pattern of "The Perfect Spy" suggests a flag.In A Perfect Spy, novelist David John Moore Cornwell, known to his fans as John le Carré, rummages through the debris of the British boyhood of Magnus Pym to explore what turned an eager-to-please lad into a spymaster.

The novel opens with Magnus Pym’s disappearance into a bolt hole in Devon shortly after his father’s funeral. It’s a refuge he’s been preparing for years.

Rick Pym had been an engaging rogue who made his living by conning people out of theirs.

Magnus grew up trying to win his father’s approval by being the sort of man Rick professed to admire and being it by using all the deceits he learned from observing his father’s behavior.

Magnus mastered the arts of deceit so well that the British hired him for what they viewed as his natural talent for espionage.

It’s only after his father’s death that Magnus feels free to look back on his life and assess his own personal culpability.

In his Devon room, Magnus writes his life story, addressing much of it to his son, Tom.

Le Carré intersperses Magnus’s story with perspectives from his wife and colleagues.

The result is a novel as complex, fascinating, and ambiguous as Magnus himself.

A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré
Knopf. © 1986. 475 p.
1986 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. My program for turning teens and adults into competent writers is just eight sentences, 34 words.

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