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Loose Lips: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Gidget joins the CIA in political writer Berlinski's rousing, hilarious, compulsively readable debut about a restless New Yorker who enlists in the secret service and learns about truth and justice the hard way. A Sanskritist previously stationed in India, spunky Selena Keller has returned to Manhattan only to face a lackluster teaching tenure. When a cryptic Internet ad seeking an "extraordinary individual" catches her eye, a whirlwind of screening exams and evaluations usher Selena in as the CIA's newest employee. Soon after relocating to Virginia, an orientation consisting of dull paperwork is replaced with hardcore, exhilarating physical instruction at a remote facility called "the Farm," where Selena learns hand-to-hand combat, emergency medicine and hilariously attempts to overcome a fear of flying. She befriends a tough, beautiful trainee named Iris and dates unsuccessfully-until Stan, a "pale, fat man with small eyes and very spiky thick red hair" manages to thrill her with his memory skills and eventually seduce her. Just as all is going well, Selena's trustworthiness and loyalty (and extracurricular activities) are called into question by a tough group of CIA adjudicators, an investigation is launched and it's clear that someone has framed her. Paranoia mounts and everyone close to Selena is considered a potential traitor, including the increasingly slimy Stan. Berlinski's far-fetched comedy of manners clips her protagonist's career wings a bit prematurely, but there's still a lot to cheer about thanks to the narrative voice of an extremely engaging and likable main character. Breezy, accomplished and bracing, this is superior entertainment.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-Selena Keller, a young scholar of Sanskrit literature, just isn't cut out for the life of an obscure academic. Impulsively, she answers an ad to work for the CIA, and the savvy New Yorker soon finds herself caught up in a culture as alien as any she had experienced in India or academia. Taught to recruit foreign nationals to serve as spies for the U.S., she learns covert operations at the agency's headquarters in McLean and paramilitary skills at its fabled "Farm" in rural Virginia. She makes friends and finds a lover, but her ambitious classmates tend to practice their new spycraft techniques on each other, and it is never clear how genuine these relationships are. Selena shows a talent for holding her own, and readers stay on the hook to see what happens next-and to find out what's really going on. Ultimately, a vestigial conscience-and a questioning intelligence that makes it impossible for her to embrace the Company spirit-proves to be Selena's undoing, and she finds liberation in a colorful ending. This fast-moving, economically told story has elements of humor, satire, and mystery. Though some readers will simply enjoy this book as spicy light fare, others will also savor its dark undertones.
Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library,
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812967097
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812967098
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,762,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Claire Berlinski is a freelance investigative journalist, travel writer, biographer, and novelist who lives in Istanbul. She is the author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, Too, and There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, which Newt Gingrich said "every American should read" and Theodore Darymple described as "about as powerful a defense of Thatcher's record as is likely ever to be written."

Her journalism has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, First Post, theOxford International Review, The American, Asia Times, the Globe and Mail, the New York Sun, the Weekly Standard, National Review, Policy Review, Penthouse, Radio Free Europe, World Affairs Journal, Azure, Traveler's Tales, Travel & Leisure, and Arabies Trends. She is also the author of two spy novels and a frequent guest on local and international radio talk shows.

Since receiving a degree in Modern History and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, she has lived and worked in Britain, Thailand, Laos, France, and Turkey.

She devotes her spare time to rescuing stray animals, studying the martial arts, and sharing hand-to-hand combat tips on the Internet.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In her engaging, endearing, and funny first novel, LOOSE LIPS, author Claire Berlinski manages to overcome any first time jitters, as she builds on a world with which many readers are familiar - the CIA, including its recruiting and training process.
This novel is no mere roman à clef. Berlinski's portrayal of Selena Keller as a woman with no sense of personal mooring, adrift in a world that lacks remorse, is positively brilliant. This is because, in Selena's quest for certainty, she turns for safe harbor to the CIA, home to deception, lies, and duplicity. What a clever paradox. So as Selena Keller becomes more certain about some items (the ability to drive a car, to recognize location and position, even increasing her awareness to the external environment about her), she becomes more uncertain about others (relationships in particular: between friends, between lovers, between sexes, between employers and employees, etc).
Truth plays a central role in this novel, as both metaphor and simile, and arguably, as this novel's central protagonist. (NB: the many aphorisms.) For all Selena does learn, she remains confused, lost. In some senses, it is odd that Selena fails to recognize how two key people physically change to achieve their objectives (good spycraft?), even though she notes the actual changes without speculating on their true motivations. For example, near the novel's end, she helps two friends reconcile their relationship, but to achieve this, she has each assume a role not in keeping with who they truly are. The two lovers do get together, but at what cost to themselves and their relationship?
This novel's coda provides the fireworks for the more literary-minded readers.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not a veteran of the CIA's clandestine service, but I've read about them and have been around Intelligence Community for over a decade. My feeling is that Berlinski really did capture what it is like to be a case officer for the CIA, i.e. one of the people who makes a living by persuading others to become traitors.
The bottom line is that what the author writes seems to me to be real enough that I'm left wondering who she might have talked to in order to get the insight that she displays in the book. I find myself thinking that this book might be a thinly disguised autobiographical account since the dust jacket is a little bit skimpy on details about where she's worked.
In any case, if anyone wants to know what the classic type of intelligence officer (not "spies") does for a living and what it takes, "Loose Lips" is the book to read. I wouldn't be surprised if I see it show up at the CIA giftshop. I've seen other novels there.
My only gripe is that the book was so good I wanted the story to last longer than it did and show the heroine in the field. If Berlinski wrote like Tom Clancy or Stephen King, a five or six hundred page long book would be way too long. But given her outstanding writing at under 300 pages, "Loose Lips" is too short. But then again, perhaps that's an application of the principal of always leaving your audience wanting more.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Claire Berlinski's novel Loose Lips will keep you glued to your chair until the bitter end. The CIA training information is so true to life, you wonder how high her security clearances go. However, it's the interwoven love story that will make you shake your head, remembering all your exes who seemed so right AT THE TIME, until you discovered otherwise. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover
Do you crave a spy story with a heavy dose of wit and intrigue? Then this is the book you want to read. I am not going to recap the plot, since other reviewers have done a good job already. What never fails to amuse me is the seriousness of the approach many readers assume when they criticize a fiction novel intended for a sheer entertainment and a light brain exercise. "The novel left me wondering, it left me unsatisfied." Jeez, must every novel end up with male and female protagonists saving the world and riding into the sunset? Although the novel did leave the reader questioning, the feeling resembles tasting a glass of exquisite wine somewhere. You remember the flavor and how much you enjoyed it, realize how much you crave for it but you never found out the name. And you never will. Does that diminish the pleasure of the experience, does that fall into the category of bad wine, simply because you didn't down the entire bottle? No. The book leaves you longing for a closure, it leaves you wandering, and that's what a good book should do.

In terms of material density, for Pete's sake, this is a fiction novel not a biography or a textbook. Did you expect to learn about the secret operations of the Federal Reserve or about the political conflicts in Turkmenistan? Some people will never stop trying to squeeze water out of a stone. You want to learn something more in-depth; fiction is not an all-encompassing source.

Also I have a problem with classifying this as chick lit. Only because it was written by a woman, about a woman doesn't mean it can only appeal to women. Berlinski used such an immaculate, spicy humor and wraped it in a layer of juicy espionage that it can easily cater to both genders.
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