It’s been over two years but I’ve laid hands on yet another abridged version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. We’ve seen two previous abridged versions, one in a magazine called True and the next in Reader’s Digest.
Over three issues of Show – The Magazine of the Arts, October through December of 1963, the book was published featuring art from Paul Davis. This was the first appearance of the book in the US as it actually preceded the US hardcover edition of The Spy Who.
My first post looked at the art from those issues. This second one will highlight commentary from le Carré on how he came to write The Spy Who that I believe has not been reprinted since its publication nearly 55 years ago.
In the October issue of Show magazine the first part of The Spy Who was printed. In addition to the story there was a short essay by le Carré on how and why he wrote his third novel. We’ve seen a few different items written by le Carré detailing the creation of the book, notably the 50th anniversary edition and in The Pigeon Tunnel, but this is one of the only I can recall that was written contemporaneously to the release of the book. Le Carré had not yet revealed the truth about his work for MI5 and MI6 so this essay is an interesting contrast to his later essays on the same topic.
Le Carré talks about the Berlin Wall, it’s effect on his writing and what he was hoping to accomplish. It also reinforces some of what Toby Manning discussed about le Carré’s portrayal of communism as an immense threat to the western world.
You can’t describe the Wall, any more than you can describe death, but when you have seen it you have added to your experience. The Wall is the most impressive symbol of the cold war, a frontier clean through a great city which only spies can cross, manned by a single people divided against itself, built in the ruins of one war, pointing to the next. Ironically, East and West are pledged to the reunification of Germany. Nobody thinks it’s funny anymore, fighting for peace. So my story begins at the Wall and ends there, as it begins and ends with death. It isn’t an antiwar book; it is concerned with the confrontation of two worlds, one claiming that men are more important than ideas, the other maintaining the reverse. These are the book’s pretensions.
He also knocks his previous book, A Murder of Quality, and it’s rather typical English mystery story. The less than impressive impression his last book had left a mark as he steered away from writing books with a true mystery plot, although flirting with it in A Small Town in Germany, until embracing it for his next big success – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
I don’t like writing plots which need explaining – those dreadful chapters about who was in the woodshed on the morning of the ninth. I tried that in my last book and I think it was a mistake.
I like this little bit that gets at his thoughts on the structure of the book and details how his writing process worked for the crucial courtroom scene.
In this case I was determined to keep the symmetry: Berlin at either end, the thesis, the deception in the middle. I wanted to take the reader for a colossal ride, as Leamas was taken for a ride. The final version represents a third, even a fourth draft. I wrote Leamas’ interrogation four times, but I write quickly and I didn’t get bored.
Finally, we see le Carré walking a fine line – writing about the secret world while denying he was a part of it. He takes a not so subtle swipe at Fleming’s James Bond before talking about the reality of spying. At the time le Carré took quite a bit of heat from those in the service who felt he was out of line in his depiction of the staff of MI6. His seems to be writing to that towards the end of the essay when he pardons those who work for the institution while damning the institution itself.
The public has been brought up to believe that people engaged in Intelligence are possessed of superhuman gifts, live in a world of limitless talent, limitless money. I have never consciously met these people, but from what one reads of their activities, the reverse seems the case. Their mistakes are human and pardonable. They are ordinary people trying to do an exceptionally difficult job. Whether the job is human and pardonable, I leave this book to decide.
In the end, it’s difficult to say how many people made it a point to read The Spy Who in magazine form and how much it helped the book before it’s official publication in 1964. Show published The Spy Who from October to December of 1963 and by November the entire country had bigger things to worry about than a new spy novel. Although with the misinformation, confusion and distrust over those events it’s certainly possible some looked for answers there.
Previous The Spy Who versions I’ve looked at-