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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Legacy of Spies


I just finished Legacy of Spies, and for me it completes the half century  old circle, bringing The Spy who Came in From the Cold main characters Alex Leamas and Liz Gold into focus with Smiley’s war with Moscow Centre.  What Leamas knew and didn’t know, and why is revealed in all those documents that Peter Guillam took out of the Circus, during the secret investigation of Bill Hayden.   We learn of a safehouse that time forgot, hidden away in plain sight like a lost monastery, managed by an abbottess who is seemingly oblivious to the ugly unloyal present, yet when confronted with it, slips happily back into opposition against the firm. Guillam is an old man now, navigating the American-like historical amnesia of the new MI-6, filled with self-absorbed millennials in tracksuits. The real horror that all of Le Carre's novels warned us of has come to pass.  It’s not the final victory of heartless Sovietness, but the ascendancy of  American gadgety totalitarianism,  of bright, clean, windowless holding rooms, and blatant careerist officers who mindlessly disdain the past, (and the tricks used to catch Hayden)  as dirty and corrupt.  The question of “What  are we really fighting for?” which weighed on every action and word from Smiley is a forgotten irrelevance. Cooperate or we will take your pension, is the answer to any question.
But as they said on another Watchtower, you and I we’ve been through that.  Now we see the other side and are treated to one more trip through the files, the piecing together of the evidence.  We see the “other” evidence, and it helps us understand why Leamas and Gold actually died, and how it was connected to the fall of Hayden and eventually, the fall of Karla.  And we even learn what happened to Karla after walking across the Oberbaum Bridge.
The ending reminded me of Frodo’s final meeting with ancient Bilbo hiding out in the library of the Elves, where Bilbo seems young again. In a final burst of the childlike perspective, Gloomy George is no longer dour, but strangely upbeat, and seemingly younger than Guillam at the end.  It is a brief view into that golden hour of Alpenglow - George is finally in the library with his German poets, where he always wanted to be if he got the chance.