34 / CHRONICLESnA Spymaster Defectsnby F. W. BrownlownA Perfect Spy by John Le Carre,nNew York: Alfred A. Knopf; $18.95.nAs a member of the last generation ofnEnglish middle-class boys brought upnon great expectahons of prosperity,nglamour, and power, John Le Carrenfirst became famous in America whennhis obsession with the failed promise ofnhis own society supplied an analogy fornAmerican middle-class readers jadednby the extravagant claims being madenfor theirs.nLe Carre’s first well-known storyntook for its background the fatiguingnrealities of the Cold War. For thousandsnwho were feeling the strains ofnEast-West conflict, this disappointednEton schoolmaster and Ml5 mannbrought relief in the form of the explanatoryntheory of “immoral equivalence”:nHowever awful the other sidenis, ours is as bad. According to LenCarre, in fact, ours is probably worsenbecause they at least believe in something,nhowever fatuous, and we believenin nothing at all. A typical LenCarre Englishman lives in an ethicalnvacuum. At his best, he has a sentimental,nsehoolboyish loyalty to thensymbols of departed power; at hisnworst, he has the same loyalty to hisnsociety that a microbe has to its host,nand when he betrays it, it is because itnhas not provided a rich enough diet.nEven Le Carre, whom an attentivenreader will often detect reveling in thennastiness of his world, needed reliefnfrom this vacuousness, and he found itnin a typical figure of contemporarynfantasy, the lone, alienated professional,nthe master-spy who pursues hisncraft for its own sake. Enter GeorgenSmiley, a plump little man whonshould probably have been a scholar,nwith the works of an obscure Germannwriter under his arm. Married to annBOOKSHELVESnaristocratic, nymphomaniac wife.nSmiley displays a willingness to toleratenrudeness, ingratitude, and betrayalnfrom his employers that puts himnsomewhere on the far side of masochism.nWith his wonderful talk of tradecraft,ninquisitors, lamplighters, moles,nwisemen, and the rest of it (which fornall one knows Le Carre made up out ofnwhole cloth, like his own pseudonym).nSmiley is the figure Le Carre’s fantasynsupplied to be the saviour of an intolerablenworld, the secret master whonserves the uncomprehending and thenundeserving.nFantasy is intensely gratifying becausenit not only provides an alternativento the disappointments and worriesnof actuality, it fosters the illusionnthat we understand them. Unfortunately,nLe Carre does not like fantasy.nHe thinks that his Schadenfreude qualifiesnhim as a realist who has nothingnin common with the late Ian Fleming,nand now he has allowed his reviewersnand his own solemnity to betray himninto taking himself seriously as a novelist.nThe result is this large, verynpeculiar book written not for the spyfietionnenthusiast, but for the thesiswritersnand their teachers.nThe reader must now come to termsnwith an unreliable first-person narrativenby the spy-hero, addressed to ancontinually changing audience, allnwrapped up in the author’s own tale ofnthe search for a scribbling hero whonhas disappeared. Perhaps this is meantnto be an allegory of the elusiveness ofntruth in our times. Then, for thenwriters of footnotes, the text is densenwith allusion, like static in a radiontransmission. The hero’s father, Pym,nand his nemesis, Wentworth, arennamed after two famous rivals in Englishnhistory. Platoons of literarynghosts haunt the book, Dickens andnThackeray prominent among them.nSome may have slipped in unintentionally,nbut Le Carre has obviouslynnnrigged most of them himself, not realizingnthat it is risky to invite comparison.nIn the past, readers have forgiven LenCarre a long list of literary sins becausenhis stories have been plausible andnexciting. When the story is implausible,nthe clumsinesses obtrude, not tonbe compensated for by allusions andnfashionable technique. Women, forninstance, have always had a roughntime in Le Carre’s books, body predominatingnover brain. But in A PerfectnSpy the author makes unprecedentedndemands on the reader’sncredibility with his portrayal of a beautiful,nwell-educated, intelligent Jewishnrefugee who becomes the mistress of ancrook, steals checks for him, realizesnwith amazement that she is a thief,nand jumps oif a tower. The hero’snmother, having given birth, ends up inna lunatic asylum, apparently becausenthe author cannot think of anythingnelse to do with her.nThe hero’s wife is an upper-class girlnfrom a country house called Plush (fornheaven’s sake!) who can’t keep hernhands out of his pants. Yet at the endnof the book she metamorphoses into ancool master-spy who would never havenmade the mistake of marrying thenhero—or would have seen throughnhim immediately. The beautifulnCzech girl Sabina also turns intonsomeone else; having advanced thenplot by seducing the hero, she becomesna bureaucrat with a briefcase.nLe Carre knows little about women,nyet he insists on putting his ignorancenon display. It also appears in this booknthat he does not know much aboutnupper- or lower-class English life either.nBorn a crook, son of a crook, thenhero is somehow transformed by annupper-class education into a simulacrumnof a gentleman. Most readersnwill find the depiction of the hero’snorigins and schooling implausible, likenan unintentional parody of J.B. Priest-n