It’s supposed to hit 90 degrees here in SF today, an event which happens between never and two times a year, so my timing of writing about “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” a book I saw some months ago (over the summer, when it probably was cold), is a bit off. But timing has never been my strong suit. More of a weak suit, which, in my mind, is probably made from camel hair and has a stubborn stain of questionable provenance around the crotch area. But, it is normally pretty cold here. Never really really Michigan, Boston, Canada cold, but pretty chilly, especially during the summer months. In fact, believing our Native American Summer (can I do this or is the whole idea of an “Indian” summer just racist and insensitive? Please tell me.) to be effectively over, this past weekend I decided to make a nice hardy stew that required a 350 degree oven on the first day of our nice little heat wave . So yeah. Timing. Not so good.
But what an awesome title for a book. So visually mysterious. You instantly conjure up the image of a a person having just walked in through the door from the outside, stomping the snow off of his/her boots, framed by the howling wind behind, and bundled up from head to toe, the person’s identity is obscured. Not quite sure what to make of him/her. Friend? Foe? It’s like what a spy would have written him/herself.
Oh wait, ONE DID.
John le Carré is one of those names I’ve of heard on and off over the years, and I think more than once phonetically confused with Louis L’Amour, an author who, rather confusingly/paradoxically to me, is an author of Western Fiction and NOT Romance novels with Fabio on the cover.
Turns out John le Carré, aka David John Moore Cornwell, was a spy, having worked for both MI5 and MI6 before turning to full-time writing under his nom de plume. This is one of his better known works. I’m preparing to pick this one up on a cold day, maybe while I’m eating a salad and some ceviche. Just because that seems to be what I do.
There was lastly the incident of the owl, which had a separate place in their opinion of him, since it involved death, a phenomenon to which children react variously. The weather continuing cold, Jim brought a bucket of coal to his classroom and one Wednesday lit it in the grate, and sat there with his back to the warmth, reading a dictée. First some soot fell, which he ignored; then the owl came down, a full-sized barn owl which had nested up there, no doubt, through many unswept winters and summers of Dover’s rule, and was now smoked out, dazed and black from beating itself to exhaustion in the flue. It fell over the coals and collapsed in a heap on the wooden floorboard with a clatter and a scuffle, then lay like an emissary of the devil, hunched but breathing, wings stretched, staring straight out at the boys through the soot that caked its eyes. There was no one who was not frightened; even Spikely, a hero, was frightened. Except for Jim, who had in a second folded the beast together and taken it out the door without a word. They heard nothing, though they listened like stowaways, till the sound of running water from down the corridor as Jim evidently washed his hands. “He’s having a pee,” said Spikely, which earned a nervous laugh. But as they filed out of the classroom they discovered the owl still folded, neatly dead and awaiting burial, on top of the compost heap beside the Dip. Its neck, as the braver ones established, was snapped. Only a gamekeeper, declared Sudeley, who had one, would know how to kill an owl so well.
Loved the post and don’t feel bad. It would seem yours is unintentional. Your not completely lopsided until your curled up in front of a cozy crackling fire, with the air conditioning on, so you don’t sweat. And reading a wintry book. A nice atmosphere for a literary fix.
Look forward to your future posts.