What works in spying can also work in fiction. By the time he wrote “A Perfect Spy,” le Carré understood that espionage is an extreme version of the human comedy, even the human tragedy. It will very likely remain his greatest book.
When you’re flying, the cold air sucked into an airplane at 30,000 feet keeps everyone alive, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of moisture in it. An hour of breathing it in leaves most people’s mouths feeling as dry as a popcorn fart.
… my heart feels like a cold stone.
Viewed over history, mental health symptoms begin to look less like immutable biological facts and more like a kind of language. Someone in need of communicating his or her inchoate psychological pain has a limited vocabulary of symptoms to choose from. From a distance, we can see how the flawed certainties of Victorian-era healers created a sense of inevitability around the symptoms of hysteria. There is no reason to believe that the same isn’t happening today. Healers have theories about how the mind functions and then discover the symptoms that conform to those theories. Because patients usually seek help when they are in need of guidance about the workings of their minds, they are uniquely susceptible to being influenced by the psychiatric certainties of the moment. There is really no getting around this dynamic. Even Insel’s supposedly objective laboratory scientists would, no doubt, inadvertently define which symptoms our troubled minds gravitate toward. The human unconscious is adept at speaking the language of distress that will be understood.