The Russia house

by John Le Carré

Paper Book, 1989




New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1989.


It is the third summer of perestroika. Barley Blair, London publisher, receives a smuggled document from Moscow. It contains technical information of overwhelming importance. But is it genuine? Is the author genuine? A plant? A madman? Blair, jazz-loving, drink-marinated, dishevelled, is hardly to the taste of the spymasters, yet he has to be used - sent to the Soviet Union to make contact. Katya, the Moscow intermediary, is beautiful, thoughtful, equally sceptical of all state ideology. Together, as the safe clichés of hostility disintegrate, they may represent the future - an idea that is anathema to the entrenched espionage professionals on both sides. THE RUSSIA HOUSE: a spy story, a love story, and a fable for our time.

Media reviews

Why is it that writers who take the bleakest view of the human condition - Pascal, Swift, Graham Greene, John le Carré - make such excellent entertainers? ''The Russia House,'' though bleak in its political implications, is essentially an ''entertainment'' in the Graham Greene sense. That is to
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say it is an exciting spy story, which is at the same time a lively international comedy of manners. The comedy is black, most of the manners being those of spies. The book is also a well-informed, up-to-the-minute political parable, incisive and instructive.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member DanStratton
I have read LeCarré before and have like his work. I even saw the movie made from this book, starring two of my favorites - Michelle Pfieffer and Sean Connery. I didn't like the book at all. In fact, I didn't even finish it. It moved too slowly and just couldn't catch my interest. The style he
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used, switching from first to third person without warning, really left me flat. For the longest time, I couldn't figure out who the first person was. His shift to and from was so swift, it was hard to keep up. See the movie. Skip the book.
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LibraryThing member Jim53
Here we have "Barley" Blair, head of a British publishing house, a man given to drinking and disappearing. A beautiful Russian woman gives one of his colleagues a manuscript for delivery to Blair; it turns out to contain military secrets. British and (ugly) American intelligence forces become
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involved, and Blair is sent back to Russia to pursue the relationship with the author, and of course with the beautiful woman.

LeCarre clearly intends that we like Barley but not take him too seriously. The narration by a lawyer working for British intelligence is an interesting choice, giving us an insider with a limited POV. I think I would have enjoyed the book more had it been tightened up. The style is competent, limited by the narrator and the situation, and is a good fit for the plot.

Earlier this year I said of LeCarre's The Constant Gardener, " A good book but too long and slow for me to recommend it with any enthusiasm." My verdict on The Russia House is much the same.
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
I didn't have my usual patience for this book. Not sure if it was my fault or LeCarre's.

Barley Blair is another of LeCarre's uncertain, awkward, vulnerable Brits led by a code of honor into the worst of troubles. It's perestroika in Russia and the ground is shifting under everyone, especially
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LibraryThing member claraoscura
My first LeCarre. I loved it. I loved how the characters felt like real people, not just ubermen like James Bond. And the plot is amazing too.
LibraryThing member Novak
The Russia House. A good ten-minute spy story stretched to 393 pages by long meaningless conversations by pointless characters who have nothing to do with the plot. Because of the good prose it had me fooled until page 278 when I threw it onto the floor.
LibraryThing member BooksForDinner
Enjoyed this one, as with all le Carre, but not one of my favorites... thought it was a bit forced, trying to make a russia/england spy novel after the cold was was over and all... i think this was his last one before he moved on to different settings... still worth the read, of course, he's the
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LibraryThing member MichaelHodges
The Russia House by John Le Carré (Published 1989)
If you seek non-stop spy genre action, this book is not for you! However if you seek a great yarn of intrigue and a wealth of conversational English of the upper crust variety, now mostly extinct, this book is the tops. For a“Jolly-Goood- showe-
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Olde Chapp”, Le Carré is the master linguist and overall word-smith. For most I expect this book is a tough slow 353 page read, but then some of us “old-school types” just love to be tried, and truly enjoy self-inflicted flagellation of the literary variety.

The story just happens to catch the last fading moments of the “Cold War”. Gorbachev experimenting with “Glasnost” and “Perestroika” led to the final and complete collapse of the formidable massive Soviet Empire. Reagan be dammed! However the “action” of this book did not dwell on this break-up as it had not yet occurred. The story therefore just made it before the Iron curtain finally collapsed. Much intrigue and much tongue- in- cheek occurs as the UK learns to play second fiddle to the US CIA cum Military –Industrial complex and the forever secret ways of Langley.

Barley is the British operative who just happens to fall in love with his Russian contact and he is the central character that in-spite of his unbelievable demeanor becomes, “the perfect spy”.

Carré, the former great spy thriller prolific writer has topped himself.

Carré connoisseurs claim this to be his best ever work.
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LibraryThing member tommi180744
I enjoyed reading this book as much as I did the first time: Few books have that effect with me. It contains some of Le Carre's most insightful and finely crafted descriptive passages - he captures fragments of a Russia undergoing sweeping changes with the confusion of people unused to free choice
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and uncertain if it is what they want or their decaying Soviet masters will actually allow. Within that (now) spasm of historic evolution is the premise of the story: Everything Russians and the West have been told and assumed about the 'might' of the USSR is possibly a fabrication! The confusion, doubt and paranoia of the West is also on display. Le Carre portrays the crumbling Communist structure, but can something fall apart if it was never really there? The vaunted, Nuclear Weapons arsenal, the power of the State apparatus... If they're no longer genuine then all that remains is Russia's one and only real asset, its people. Who is Goethe? Is his manuscript fact or fiction? Is the great monolith USSR a reality or a an emperor with no nuclear back-stop!? Le Carre blends all that with a couple of superbly portrayed characters, Barley Blair and Katya whose love affair overlays the whole narrative. 'The Russia House' ranks in the top 5 of this masterful spy-thriller author's legendary work.
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LibraryThing member br77rino
The ending was a bit week. The pages leading up to the ending were fantastically suspenseful.
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
Another JLC novel w little to no action. Well written and with some good Cold War insights and descriptions but it is the last JLC I will be reading. Took a while to read.
LibraryThing member baswood
This proved to be a good holiday read. You know what you are going to get when you pick up a Le Carré novel especially one entitled The Russia House. It is the time of Perestroika in Russia, but the spying game continues as normal. The British spies think that they have stumbled onto a scoop with
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a high placed Russian teetering on the edge of revealing the state of Russia's armaments programme. The only problem is that the connection has been made by the director of a publishing firm who publishes occasional Russian novels and who twenty years ago had been on the books of the British secret services. Barley Blair is typically upper class English with possible communist leanings: we all know the type, but there is a file on Blair on which someone had written 20 years ago "No Further Action (in brackets Ever)." What could possibly go wrong in recruiting Blair again, but the prize or the bait was so tempting.

The first part of the story deals with the services attempts re-recruit Blair, he is reluctant, but has fallen under the charms of a Russian woman he met at a publishing bash in Moscow, who is the key to the source of the tantalising information. The Americans get involved working with the British in trying to ascertain the reliability of Blair and the information source. The British team full of characters, old hands in the world of spying, pitch in to work with the more professional American Team. Barley Blair likes a drink, in fact drinking gets him through much of his life, but he has charm and is intelligent enough to avoid obvious pit falls. Much of the early part of the book is conversations usually with or about Barley Blair and it is these conversation that provide a link to a narrative that drives the second part of the novel.

Le Carré makes his spies human, they are characters, not cogs in a machine. Probably the office clerks or the computer people do all the hard background and number crunching work, but we do not hear much about this. We understand that agents in the field play a dangerous game and that "Joes" (people controlled by the professionals) are in fear of their lives, but any violence or assassinations take place outside of the narrative. It is a novel that thrives on mystery, the dropping of clues as to who is reliable or who plays a better game. Office politics seems more dangerous than the actual spying; It's all a bit of a cuddle really, but I was happy to go along for the ride and so 3.5 stars.
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LibraryThing member robfwalter
Solid spy fiction from le Carre. I found it slowed a bit in the middle, but the beginning was entertaining and the final third engrossing.
LibraryThing member kukulaj
Nicely paced. There was a sense of where things would go, right from the start. But just how they would get there...


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