Le Carre, John: The Russia House
(researched by Nate Hagerty)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Published June 9, 1989 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York; Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York ISBN: 0-394-57789-2

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

Trade Cloth

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

Pagination: 184 leaves, pp i-xii 1-2 3-353 354-356 [p. i blank, ii ëalso by John le CarrÈ...í, iii title page, iv blank, v title page with publisher, vi publisher information, vii dedication, viii blank, ix 2 quotations, x blank, xi-xii foreword, 1 titlepage, 2 blank, 3-353 text, 354 blank, 355 a note on
the type, 356 blank.]

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

no editor or introduction

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

no illustrations

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

Well-used copy has remained in fair shape; binding is cracked between p. ii - iii

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

White, unwatermarked; Holding up very well

11 Description of binding(s)

Binding: coarse, black cloth-covered boards; Front, in white, [separation device] | THE RUSSIA | HOUSE, Back, blank, Spine, vertically, in white: ëJohn le CarrÈ [separation device] THE RUSSIA HOUSEí.

12 Transcription of title page

John le CarrÈ | [separation device] | THE RUSSIA | HOUSE | [publisherís device] | Alfred A. Knopf New York 1989

13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

no manuscript publicly available

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

Set in digitized Janson; Composed, printed, and bound by The Haddon Craftsmen, Scranton, Pennsylvania; Designed by Dorothy S. Baker

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

Published in Trade Paper, rather than Cloth and by Random House, Inc. (1989), rather than the subsidiary, Knopf.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

pending from publisher

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

United States Bantam Books, Inc.: July 1990 [Infotrac Books In Print] Macmillan Library Reference: August 1990 (Large Print) [Infotrac] G.K. Hall: 1990, 1989 {cloth} (Large print) [Eureka Bibliofind ]
United Kingdom Coronet: 1990 [Eureka Bibliofind] Chivers: 1990 [Eureka Bibliofind] Hodder & Stoughton: June 1989 {Cloth}, May 1990 {Paper}[Whitaker Books In Print] Chancellor, "3 by John le Carre" also including, The Secret Pilgrim, A Murder of Quality: 1993 [Eureka Bibliofind]
Canada Viking: 1989 [Eureka Bibliofind] Penguin: 1989 {cloth}, 1990 {paper}, 1996 {paper} [Eureka Bibliofind]

6 Last date in print?

Currently in print

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

Information pending from publisher

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

Information pending from publisher

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

(see image) Taken from New York Times Book Review, p.3: Assorted critical quotations, including "Unprecedented Comment from the Soviet Union" Bottom: "A spy novel. An anti-spy novel. A novel of East and West in the time of glasnost and perestroika. An astonishing thriller that catches history in the act."

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

Summer Selection of the Book of the Month Club, 1989

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

Movie: "The Russia House," 1990 MGM Entertainment Directed by Fred Schepisi Produced by Fred Schepisi, Paul Maslinsky Screenplay by Tom Stoppard Starring: Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, Roy Schneider
Motion Picture Soundtrack: Composed & Conducted by Jerry Goldsmith MCA Records: 1990 [Eureka Bibliofind]
Audio Recordings: Produced by Random House Audio, July 1989 Abridged Edition, June 1997 (read by the author) Produced by Books on Tape, 1989 (read by David Case) [Infotrac Books In Print]

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

French: Published by Gallimardi: April, 1991 Translated by Isabelle & Mimi Perind Published by Robert Laffont: April 1991 Livre de Poche: March, 1997 [Alapage ]
Korean: Published by Kimyongsa: 1990 Translated by Ch'oe Chae-bong [Eureka Bibliofind]
Japanese: Published by Hayakawa Shobo: 1990 Translated by Murakami Hiroki [Eureka Bibliofind] Portugese: Published by Emece: 1991 {cloth} Translated by Adolfo Martin [Eureka Bibliofind]
Chinese: Published by T'ai-wan chung hua shu chu, min ko: 1991 Translated by Ho Wan-lan i [Eureka Bibliofind]

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

Not applicable

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A


Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

"John le Carre" is the public name of a very private man, who wrote novels of an intensely private realm, international espionage. Born David John Moore Cornwell, October 19, 1931 in Poole, Dorsetshire, England s
on of Ronald Thomas Cornwell and Olive (Glassy) Cornwell, who disappeared when he was three. He was educated in St. Andrew's College, a prestigious preparatory school and then studied abroad at Bern University, Switzerland from 1948-9 and then back home t
o Lincoln College, Oxford, where he received his B.A. with honours in 1956. He joined the British Army Intelligence Corps in 1949, and after stints as a teacher at distinguished schools, continued his work for the government in the British Foreign Office
in Bonn, West Germany and in Hamburg. His writing began as a side career and his first book, CALL FOR DEAD, was published at the age of 29, under the pseudonym of John le Carre. Because of his job, Cornwell was not permitted to publish anything under his
real name, and so he came up with the name "from nowhere." With the overwhelming success of his third published novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, 1963, Cornwell began writing full time and has written 16 novels to date, most of which have spent ti
me on the bestseller list. Cornwell is known for hesitating to appear publicly. The legacy of his father has led Cornwell to purposefully avoid perceived symmetry between the two. His father, Ronnie, died in 1976 and was notorious for schmoozing his financial existence through illu
sory connections and personal charm. David Cornwell was 18 when he discovered that his father was a convicted felon for embezzlement, and about to marry his first wife when his father's debts finally came crashing down on him in the public eye. Cornwell r
ecalls the headline in the Daily Express when his father went spectacularly bust: "Uncrowned King of Chalfont St. Peter Owes a Million and a Quarter," which, converting from 1954 pounds to today's dollars is roughly between $30-$40 million. The two were n
ever close. Cornwell resides now in London's Hampstead, or a Cornish coastal estate with his second wife, Valerie and their son, Nicholas. He has three sons, Simon, Stephen, and Timothy from his previous marriage to Ann Sharp, with which he remains close. His public
papers remain out of reach, but his agent, Bruce Hunter, can be contacted at: David Higham, Ltd., 5-8 Lower John Street, Golden Square, London W1R 4HA, England.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Most contemporary reviews of the novel have been highly favorable, elevating the work to the level of art, above mass appeal. The book draws many comparisons to his novel, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, as it deals with a similar contrast between the world of emotions and the world of intelligence, power, and government, in a similarly fast-paced manner. One of its greatest features seems to be the way in which Le Carre has adapted his writing to the world of the new Russia and glasnost. Critics praise how well-rounded the Russian characters are, a rare characteristic of Western spy novels. "I want Russians and I want them the old sort, mean and clever, enigmas wrapped in mysteries, miserable and inscrutable. ?The Russia House' holds out the promise of all that, and depending on your literary tastes, it delivers. The book is also alarmingly up to date..." -Jeff Danziger, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, June 13, 1989, p. 13 "John le Carre, master of the spy novel, ushers in a new era with a remarkable and surprising thriller. The days of Karla and Smiley are over...He has made the secret service his dominant metaphor; through them he examines ?the dirty side, the dreamy side of our national subconscious.'...From a writer of thrillers Cornwell [le Carre's real name] has become a thriller of writers a cold war ironist entitled to a place alongside Graham Greene and George Orwell." -Tom Matthews, NEWSWEEK, June 5, 1989, p. 52-57 "With scarcely an intimation of sex, no violence and not a sidearm visible, le Carre has managed to construct a plot of commanding suspense. Never before has he so successfully merged his narrative and contemplative gifts." -Paul Gray, TIME, August 4, 1989, p. 86 One very significant exception to the glowing praise is found in the Manchester Guardian Weekly, written by fellow novelist Salman Rushdie. "There is something unavoidably stick-figure-like about le Carre's attempts at characterization...The human factor brings out what is most naive and sentimental about his prose." -August 6, 1989 Cumulative Reviews: AMERICAN LIBRARIES 5/89 BOOKLIST 5/1/89; 1/15/90 BUSINESS WEEK 5/29/89 WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD 6/4/89 COMMONWEAL 7/14/89, 12/1/89 CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR 6/13/89 ECONOMIST 7/1/89 GLOBE AND MAIL (Toronto) 6/10/89 GUARDIAN WEEKLY 8/6/89 ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS Fall 89, Spring 90 INSIDE BOOKS 8/89 KIRKUS REVIEWS 4/15/89 LA TIMES BOOK REVIEW 6/18/89, 7/1/90 LISTENER 6/29/89 LIBRARY JOURNAL 6/15/89 LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS 8/17/89 MACLEANS 6/19/89 NEW REPUBLIC 8/21/89 NEW YORK MAGAZINE 6/5/89, 7/16/90 NEW LEADER 5/15/89 NEW STATESMAN & SOCIETY 6/30/89 NEWSWEEK 6/5/89 NY REVIEW OF BOOKS 9/28/89 NY TIMES BOOK REVIEW 5/21/89, 7/15/90 NY TIMES (Late ed.) 5/18/89 LONDON OBSERVER 7/2/89, 7/16/89 PUNCH 6/30/89 PUBLISHERS WEEKLY 4/21/89, 5/25/90 QUILL QUIRE 8/89 SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 11/89, 12/90 SPECTATOR 7/1/89 STAND Fall 90, Spring 90 TIMES EDUCATIONAL SUPPLEMENT 8/11/89 TIME 5/29/89 TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT 8/4/89 TRIBUNE BOOKS (Chicago) 5/21/89 US NEWS & WORLD REPORT 6/19/89 WEST COAST REVIEW OF BOOKS 6/89 WORLD & I 9/89 WALL STREET JOURNAL 5/30/89 Movie reviews not included.

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

There are no reviews written after 1990, however a highly interesting subplot has arisen from le Carre's reaction to Rushdie's eviscerating review of THE RUSSIA HOUSE, which was written four months into his Ayatollah-decreed death sentence and the subsequent literary feud which has aired on the Letters page of the London Guardian. Le Carre responded by saying that Rushdie brought the sentence upon himself and criticized him for pushing for paperback publication of his novel, implying that Rushdie place a higher value on money than on the lives of the publisher's employees. The feud has garnered international attention, partly due to the notoriety of both of its antagonists, and has gained recent new life from le Carre's reaction to American reviews of his 1996 book, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, which labeled it as anti-Semitic. Stung by this accusation, le Carre made a speech to the Anglo-Israel Association saying that he felt like the victim of a politically correct witch-hunt. Rushdie responded. "It would be easier to sympathise with him had he not been so ready to join in an earlier campaign of vilification against a fellow writer...It would be gracious if he were to admit that he understands the nature of the Thought Police a little better now that, at least in his own opinion, he's the one in the firing line" (November 18, 1997). Le Carre replied the next day, "Rushdie's way with the truth is as self-serving as ever...My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says that great religions may be insulted with impunity." To which Rushdie shot back, "I'm grateful to John le Carre for refreshing all our memories about exactly how pompous an ass he can be...[He] is right to say that free speech isn't an absolute. We have the freedoms we fight for, and we lose we don't defend. I'd always thought George Smiley knew that. His creator appears to have forgotten" (November 20, 1997). The next day, le Carre charged Rushdie with "self-canonisation," to which Rushdie replied "?Ignorant' and ?semi-literate' are dunces caps he has skillfully fitted on his own head." The feud continues, although the letters have ceased for the moment. Vanessa Friedman of the New Yorker writes, "There hasn't been a London literary feud like this since A.S. Byatt took on Martin Amis over his dentist's bills." And the impetus for this whole thing was one bad review of THE RUSSIA HOUSE.

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

The Russia House: Literature or pop?

by Nate Hagerty

The making of an American bestseller is an often unpredictable business. The whims of the public en masse and the dictates of the supremely capitalist market can be the epitome of fickle, while still appearing simple. That is why it is difficult t
o say what makes a book emerge from the ranks of obscurity and into the realm of the magazine lists. It sometimes seems as random as rolling the dice. However, just as the experienced gambler employs certain techniques to improve the chances of a positive
outcome, there are certain ways that writers can appeal to larger audiences and ways that publishers can more safely anticipate a popular book. The element of randomness still plays an important part, but in today's world/market of overwhelming commercia
lism proven formulae usually dictate sales.
In John le Carre's The Russia House, there are a variety of factors which may have contributed to the book's success. Clearly, as a product from an established, popular author, the book was bound for success initially. For example, any book which
might now emerge from John Grisham, or Tom Clancy, or Danielle Steele would be an instant winner. The same principle holds true in markets such as food, music, movies, and other entertainment industries. However, the longevity of this book's success (19 w
eeks as #1 on Publisher's Weekly Top Ten list) cannot be accounted for merely from momentum due to the name brand appeal of the writer. Word of mouth resulting from a "bad" book would eventually deflate any initial surge in sales. There must be other reas
ons for such clear success.
In many ways, it is difficult to quantify reasons for ?s success. The best way, I think, is to consult the experts, and see what they had to say about what they liked it. Indeed, in a broad survey of critics, most all of them had litt
le that was bad to say about the book. For the most part, they enjoyed the book enough to write superlative-laced reviews suitable to include in subsequent editions designed to attract the reader who places great weight in what the "experts" have to say.
The Wall Street Journal's book reviewer wrote, "What distinguishes Mr. le Carre from so many popular novelists is the precision with which he dramatizes not only the cloak and dagger business (at which he is unmatched), but also the particular huma
n beings who carry it out or run afoul of it"(May 30, 1989, p.A20). Indeed, this human quality which the book takes on seems to be the most distinguishing characteristic that the various reviewers highlight in their praise of the book. The critic for T
he Washington Times
writes, "[Le Carre] has progressed to new heights...blending passion, healthy cynicism, and philosophy into his descriptions of actions and feelings of the members of the world's second-oldest profession people who are as often adm
ired as they are despised." This characteristic of the book lends a quality which some reviewers even go so far as to label "literary," quite an uncommon remark to be made about a bestseller now or ten years ago.
This praise is most likely due to the element of character development which becomes evident as the story progresses. For example, the protagonist, a drunk publisher named Barley Blair, at first reluctantly agrees to be used by British Intelligence to obt
ain pertinent information which only he can obtain, but soon throws himself into the work, taking to the mechanics of the spy trade as if he was made for it. But this too does not last, and Barley very humanly falls for a beautiful Russian woman in which
he has contact and is forced to choose between the relationships which he now holds dear, and his country. At the point of this conflict, Blair is inspired by events and undergoes quite a significant sense of clarity.
"I have joined the tiny ranks of people who know what they will do first if the ship catches fire in the middle of the night, he thought; and what they will do last, or not do at all. He knew in ordered detail what he considered worth saving and what
was unimportant to him. And what was to be shoved aside, stepped over and left for dead. A great house cleaning had taken place inside his mind, comprising quite humble details as well as grand themes. Because, as Barley had recently observed, it was in h
umble detail that grand themes wrought their havoc."
Part of what makes this description so interesting is the characteristic le Carre technique of not revealing important details until they have already played themselves out. For instance, in this ex
ample the reader is not certain what action Barley favors as a result of this new clarity of vision until he has actually done it, and the other characters themselves are even more in the dark. The plot unfolds in a subtle, unpredictable manner
A second aspect of this book which the critics and the public reacted well to is the way in which the story is appropriate for the times in which it is set. The crumbling of the Soviet Union sparked a momentary crisis for novelists who had previously thri
ved on the tensions from that conflict. As relations between the East and West improved, the idea of an easily discernible bad guy became less and less plausible. In 1989, the year in which the book was published, the USSR faced a major coup d'etat and it
s leadership swiftly changed hands. The ideas of capitalism became more and more dominant and the perception of Russia as a vast, evil monolith slowly began to disappear. This was bad news for most writers, but for le Carre, this only offered more possibi
lities for interesting situations and characters. Indeed, the world of moral ambiguity and questionable bureaucratic leadership is the world in which le Carre had lived for most of his writing career. This is another characteristic le Carre trait; calling
into question the assumed roles of good and bad which Western and Eastern governments take on in the imaginations of the mass public. His characters are often forces to decide between their own needs or their or of their loved ones and the "mission" or m
other country(usually England). It is a particularly modern dilemma, and one which had so often previously led to success.
So as real, current events caught up to the fictional world and style of le Carre, it would seem that 1989 would be a particularly fine year for a writer such as he to emerge as highly successful and a book such as The Russia House to emerge as one
of his most popular thus far. The critics also recognized how the book had so successfully adapted to the new Russia. "The Russia House is a novel about love, moral decision, loyalty, and courage. It is also a novel about bureaucracy, betrayal, de
spair, and terror. What happens to Barley and Katya reveals better than a Kissinger brief what glasnost and perestroika are about in terms of human suffering, triumph, loss, and survival"(San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner). In a Ju
ne 5, 1989 Newsweek article, le Carre is quoted as saying, "We in the West have not considered on what terms the Cold War might end," he says. "A second cold war might break out among those who see no advantage in lifting our fabled enemy off the f
loor." And about the disarray of NATO: "The problem is how to keep marching in step without constantly harping on the external enemy." The book itself reflects both sides of the anxiety over a world without a monolithic "enemy" to occupy the military stra
tegists' attention. Answering a Blair query about whether the Cold War was really over, a British intelligence officer, Walter, replies,
"Cheap political theatricals and feigned friendships!" he snorted. "Here we are locked into the biggest ideological face-off in history, and you tell me it's all over because a handful of statesmen find it convenient to hold hands in public and scrap
a few obsolete toys. The evil empire's on its knees, oh yes! Their economy's a disaster, their ideology's up the spout and their backyard's blowing up in their faces. Just don't tell me that's a reason for unbuckling our guns, because I won't believe a wo
rd of you. It's a reason for spying the living daylights out of them twenty-five hours a day and kicking them in the balls every time they try to get off the floor. God knows what they won't think they are ten years from now!"
This response typ
ifies opposition to restrained defense build-up, which, in various ways, the novel goes on to call into doubt. In this way le Carre is almost ahead of times in revealing the emptiness in the need for increased or maintained military pressure. Time will st
ill yet tell whether relations between East and West will be fully repaired, but the West has "unbuckled its guns" and cut back on opposition to the "Soviet knight."
A third reason which can account for the relative staying power of the popularity of this book is the movie adaptation which starred two top-profile actors in Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeifer, as well as a host of recognizable actors in smaller roles. Th
e movie remains mostly faithful to the book, differing in some minor details, but in some significant ones, as well. Mostly, as would be expected, the movie production focuses more on the romantic relationship between Blair(Connery) and Katya(Pfeifer) and
introduces it earlier in the plot. Indeed, this may be accounted for as an effort to make the plot more suitable for Hollywood, because, according to the Newsweek cover story, studio boss after studio boss told operatives attempting to sell it to the mov
iemakers, "Sorry. First this is a story about a disloyal man. Second, there is no hero in it." The increased emphasis on the Barley-Katya plot may have been a way to more clearly market and categorize the movie as a spy romance.
Additionally, the limitations of the medium also play a part in shaping the movie, in that the plot must be condensed and interior dialogue becomes much trickier to portray and much more dependent on the proficiency of the particular actor. This is a sign
ificant loss as the novel depends so much on the narration of the inner thoughts of the characters.
And a major difference between the book and movie is that in the movie, the narrator himself, a minor character who acts as legal consultant to British intelligence and gains a particular affinity for Blair, is eliminated altogether, being replaced by ext
ending the roles of other minor characters. This removes a perspective which was fresh in its indirectness and important in its independent and cohesive development. Describing a day of inactivity, the narrator reveals bits of himself, as he does througho
ut the book:
The whole next day nothing. a space. Spying is waiting. Spying is worrying yourself sick while you watch Ned sink into a decline. Spying is taking Hannah[his ex-wife] to your flat in Pimlico between the hour of four and six when she is supposed to be
having a German lesson, God knows why. Spying is imitating love, and making sure she's home in time to give dear Derek his dinner."
This element of passive, yet discernible narration provides the reader with quite an interesting perspective, more full
y fleshing out the human consequences of events in the world of secrecy. For these reasons, I thought the movie less impressive than the novel, although I am not prone to knee-jerk anti-movie sentiments like some. The movie was simply good, not excellent
as it might have been. And it performed moderately well in the box office, but not enough to carry the book back into the top ten lists of most publishing magazines, but enough to keep the book on the public consciousness, and thereby temporarily burgeon
Perhaps if the movie had become an instant classic the book may have as well, but unfortunately this is not the case. For whatever reason, the book has mostly fallen off the map in terms of public awareness and consumption. The movie remains more recogniz
able because of Connery, but not so much because of its exceptional quality. It is unfortunate that only through a mildly successful movie that a great book remains to be known. Perhaps because novels which explore the human side of these sort of topics h
ave become more common, or interest in a Russia which is no longer a clear adversary has declined, or perhaps it has become lost in the spectrum of le Carre novels, or maybe for other, unexplored reasons, but the book is no longer a current "bestseller."
However, for a period in 1989, John le Carre and his American publisher, Knopf, gambled and scored, thereby cracking the market and producing one of the 80's most popular books.

Supplemental Material

From the paperback Bantam edition, this is a promotion for the soon-to-be-released movie production.

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