Book Club: Spy Novels

1 Dec

I’m an addict. There’s no other way to say it. I can’t stop reading spy novels.

I won’t lie, I’m easily swayed. If I were slightly – massive understatement – cooler I’d probably be writing this on a stained mattress in a crack den. The only reason I’m not a big drug addict is that I’m scared of dying. When I was 17 my own mother told me I was a huge loser for being so sober. Obviously we’re only talking about drugs here as she nearly put her back out carting all the Saluti Vino Rosso (Waitrose own-label) bottles out in the recycling today but that totally doesn’t count.

Anyway. My father collects espionage fiction. His term, not mine, though I do find myself closer and closer to wanting to use it. We have never got on particularly well and finding out that he was spending my inheritance on hardback editions of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road just because its cover was designed by some spy writergrated slightly. Dude, don’t do that! Knowing that I was, at some point (the Douglases live forever), to inherit hundreds of hardbacks – yuck – off a man I didn’t really care for didn’t really endear me to the genre.

Then came the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I’ve written before about my love of wanky books, (something that I think stems from the fact I never went to school. I think the theory behind this is, in layman’s terms: “You haven’t read The Idiot? IDIOT! I DIDN’T GET GCSES AND I HAVE! THICKO! Can’t do my six times tables but have read Solzhenitsyn, so in your face.”) and when I watched the trailer I was desperate to see the film. But being the person I am I had to read the book first. But obviously not the book with the promotional film cover – there are some things I will never do. So off I popped to my local Waterstones (I used to work for them and hated it, but I’ll never shop anywhere else for books, it is fantastic) and picked it up.

I was destined for Spain, to see my father and my step-family, the next day, and was half way through it on the plane. I was hooked. When I first got to my dad’s new house the first thing I did was inspect his library. The atrium of their villa has been smothered in bookshelves devoted to his first editions and weirdly-somehow-special books. In the car from the airport we’d had a long chat about what I’d been reading, so the tour around his shelves was lovely. Especially as on the plane I’d become deeply consumed by John le Carré’s short biography on the flyleaf to quell my fear of flying and could drum off some random facts to make me sound like a pro.

By the next evening I had finished Tinker Tailor and was on to the William Boyd I’d shoved in my suitcase, but I was itching for more. As I was packed off to the airport a few days later my father gave me some books to take with me; le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Charles Cumming’s The Spanish Game (do you see what he did there?). I read my second le Carré in a day and a half. I loved it. After that I was straight on to the Cumming book, which I went though with similar speed.

I’d managed to buy A Perfect Spy and a few other books in the meantime, and spent a good few days hunched over it on the sofa, desperate to get to the end but not wanting it to finish. I honestly would have cancelled any plans I had, if I were popular enough to make them, to read that book. It was utterly fantastic. If I could buy everyone I know a book for Christmas it would definitely be that one, but unfortunately for them I have no money nor any plans to get them anything for Christmas.

Once I’d finished A Perfect Spy I was at a bit of a loss. I’d finished all my spy books. The day before I’d gone to the Waterstones’ website and ordered a load of le Carré, Jeremy Duns and Charles Cumming, but God knows when they would arrive. I tried to start Doctor Zhivago, but it just wasn’t the time.

I stopped reading for a few days, something that I rarely do. But yesterday I got my fix. Picking up my books (“Oh, yes, we’ve got your order, rather a lot of books, isn’t it?” Fuck off.) was brilliant – a bit of a hit. I want to liken it to the bit in Trainspotting where Ewan McGregor manages to score a couple of suppositories, but it really wasn’t anything like that at all. At all. Apart from the fact I was really happy, because I’m really quite sad.

I threw myself into the sequel to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honorable Schoolboy, and I‘m not going to lie to you, so far it is an utter stinker. But I’m still engrossed, and hoping it gets better. And I can’t wait to read the third in the trilogy, Smiley’s People. After that I have two Jeremy Duns and The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming lined up.

Basically, spy novels are like drugs. And I’m quite happy to push them on you. I’m off to Spain for a month in February, and I can’t wait to help organise my inheritance.

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2 Responses to “Book Club: Spy Novels”

  1. mattdupuy December 1, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    And you haven’t even started on Graham Greene yet…

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