From The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1963 to A Perfect Spy to The Night Manager, Le Carré’s fiction has transcended the spy genre he has both shaped and dominated.
The murky world of agents and double agents, of noble ends justifying horrendous means, of friendships and loves calculatingly nurtured and ruthlessly betrayed was always a metaphor for the murky world of the human heart: for the secrets we all have but don’t share, for the masks we wear and the pretences we sustain, for the betrayals of mind and heart, of body and abandonment.
In his latest novel, A Legacy of Spies, Le Carré summons an old agent out of retirement to defend decisions that led to the deaths of The Spy Who Came in and his innocent girlfriend 50 years before. How will the justifications of the past stand up to the spiky legalism and self-righteous political correctness of the present? History, of course, is full of discarded creeds – from sati to cannibalism, from racism to sexism – all oh so clearly flawed to us. Now. But how, I wonder, will history look on our own age’s frenzied scurrying for meaning in the idolatry of things?
More pertinently, how many decisions made in conformity to a transient culture will stand up to the scrutiny of an eternal God? This is, of course, why Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1-2): cultures make plausible what God calls abominable.
Still, Le Carré’s voice is neither cynical nor nihilist. In even the darkest nights, compassion flickers determinedly in the hearts of his chief protagonists. And so does the goodness and possibility of true love, lifelong loyalty, and the unalloyed desire to do the best thing one can think to do, even when that is neither clear, nor easy, nor without cost. Every day, of course, Christians wrestle with such questions – in war zones, in third-world hospitals with too little medicine for too many patients, or in the toxic, scheming, first-world workplaces in which some of my friends find themselves.
For most of us, the stakes are less high, even if the challenge is ever-present: how this day, in my context, can I tend the flame of compassion, stay true, overcome evil with good, sow shalom, and walk humbly with my God?
Executive Director, LICC