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The Little Drummer Girl: A Novel Paperback – December 30, 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The New York Times An irresistible book...Charlie is the ultimate double agent. -- Review

About the Author

John le CarrÉ was born in 1931. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, secured him a worldwide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People. His novels include The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy, The Russia House, Our Game, The Taileor of Panama, and Single & Single. John le CarrÉ lives in Cornwall.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (December 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743464656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743464659
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,034,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mr. Le Carre wrote this book about the Middle East in 1983, and it is as timely a novel now as it was then. Charlie, a modestly talented British actress goes to work for Israeli intelligence to try and locate a secretive Palestinian agent. Indoctrinated with a false background of having a romantic affair with the agent's brother, she plays the role with such determination that she begins to believe this fictional experience. At various points in the novel the reader begins to wonder if Charlie will remain an Israeli spy or begin to identify with the Palestinians.

Le Carre skillfully develops the philosophy of the opposing sides. The Palestinian and Israeli characters all feel the righteousness of their cause. Each feels that they are on the side of justice, and even human love, to oppose those whom they feel are motivated by purely evil intent. There is never a consideration of whether the end should justify the means. Anything goes when justice is on your side. You are left with the feeling that there is no resolution to this conflict.

JLC is known for his slow, detailed exposition of plot and character. You read over 100 pages before you get a glimmering of what is probably going to happen. There are some thrills in this novel, but don't expect this to be an edge of your seat ride. The first part of the book involves a bombing in Berlin, and the author, in an updated introduction to the book, admits that maybe he should have shortened this section somewhat. I rather like the book's pace, seeing the development of the characters, and the gelling of the Byzantine plot. He's a skilful, intelligent writer, and that's just fine. One outstanding section of the book involves the chief Israeli agent, an expert manipulator, jousting with a British intelligence officer.
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Format: Paperback
This is a Le Carre novel for people who don't want to read of old men in cardigans sitting in dingy offices piecing together intelligence reports. The characters here are youthful, sexy, passionate. There are bombs and there is bloodshed. There is a hint of sophisticated sex, and there are lovers seeking comfort in each other's arms. We are a long way from George Smiley's Circus, but the novel is filled with the same brooding atmosphere as Le Carre's Karla novels.

We meet Charlie, an out-of-work young bohemian actress with a somewhat violent boyfriend. She is recruited and offered a part in an Israeli secret-service production: she plays out the role of lover to a terrorist and is then sent out into the field to trap the terrorist's brother. As usual, Le Carre's style is to develop characters slowly and indirectly. For instance, rather than read that Charlie's boyfriend is violent, we just read what he tells Charlie as he bosses her about: "Carry my bag. Men don't carry bags, see".

Also following his formula, Le Carre sets his characters in a dark joyless world. Amazingly enough, he manages to infuse lively Greek islands with the bleakness of the Yorkshire moors. Charlie is not happy on Mykonos and is easy to recruit.

The novel is somewhat dated. There are no suicide bombers, there is no infatida. The Palestinian terrorists and their allies are sophisticated Marxist socialites, a common portrayal in the 70s and 80s. But it works as a story, as character development, and as a snapshot of the Palestine-Israel conflict in the early 80s.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this novel quite a bit, but I'm not sure if I should be embarassed to admit it.

Le Carre is said to know something about intelligence operations in the real world, but the plot seems a bit implausible to me. Everything hinges on Charlie, even though no one knows what she will do, or even what she believes. I can't believe that governments would conduct business that way, not if the stakes were high.

The book functions best as a romance. Charlie's pretty appealing, in a sexist way: A beautiful, smart, talented woman who is more or less waiting for a man to come around and mold her; she's Kim Novak in Vertigo. That's the problem -- her appeal is rooted in her plasticity, and in the way she responds to abuse by redoubling her efforts to please. When I responded to the character I was simultaneously entertained and, I'm afraid, a little diminished.

Politically, the book is sort of puzzling. In the novel (I don't mean this to be a comment on reality in either direction), the Israelis don't have much justice on their side, but they are decent and compassionate people. The Palestinians, conversely, seem to have legitimate claims, but their national champions are bloodthirsty monsters.

It's an odd juxtaposition which tends to produce a sense of balance for the reader, but whether or not it has any basis in reality is something I'll leave to people who know more about the region. My guess, though, is that both sides are shortchanged pretty substantially, in different ways.

On one hand, we have the Jewish conspirators, puppet masters of consumate skill, manipulating everyone with whom they come in contact. They control everything secretly, using methods so subtle the rest of the world doesn't even know it's being led.
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