A Modern Classic In Which John Le Carr Expertly Creates A Total Vision Of A Secret World, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Begins George Smiley S Chess Match Of Wills And Wits With Karla, His Soviet Counterpart It Is Now Beyond A Doubt That A Mole, Implanted Decades Ago By Moscow Centre, Has Burrowed His Way Into The Highest Echelons Of British Intelligence His Treachery Has Already Blown Some Of Its Most Vital Operations And Its Best Networks It Is Clear That The Double Agent Is One Of Its Own Kind But Which One George Smiley Is Assigned To Identify Him And Once Identified, The Traitor Must Be Destroyed After a lifetime of living by his wits and his considerable memory, he had given himself full time to the profession of forgetting Over the past couple of months, George Smiley has earned the distinction of my favorite spy Not because he is handsome, sexy, charismatic or daring but rather because he is all too human He s the real deal, and no one could write a genuine character like him as well as the master, John le CarrSmall, podgy, and at best middle aged, he was by appearance one of London s meek who do not inherit the earth His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill fitting, and extremely wet How on earth does a guy like this get saddled with the onerous task of uncovering a Russian planted mole at the highest level of the British Secret Service Because he is brilliant and honorable, that s how There are many layers to George Smiley, and I am thoroughly enjoying the unpeeling of each one as I delve and into these novels Smiley teams up with Peter Guillam, a younger agent who is further removed from the upper echelon of the service, partly due to a botched operation and partly as a result of his prior association with Smiley The guys at the top have been very deliberately remaking the organization to their own advantage Anyone with a loyalty to the former chief, or those that hovered too close to the truth, have been quietly relocated to lesser positions or simply dismissed The organization is being carefully refashioned to the mole s purpose I was further pleased to become further acquainted with the somewhat eccentric Mendel, a former police inspector whom was introduced to us in le Carr s novel Call for the Dead.Naturally, a huge theme in this novel is that of betrayal George Smiley grapples with this not only in his professional life but also his private life His sincere interior conflict further illuminates the real character of the man I can t help but feel sympathy for Smiley, and admire his courage to examine his own principlesIt worried him that he felt so bankrupt that whatever intellectual or philosophical precepts he clung to broke down entirely now that he was faced with the human situation One thing I have come to expect from le Carr is that I need to be a bit savvy with my spy lingo If there were a little glossary of the terms in the back of the book, I would be off and running with the story straight from the get go In reality, it takes me a little bit to settle in and really understand what is happening It s okay though, I get there eventually, and any earlier confusion is worth the payoff I m not very successful with my own personal psychological analysis of the characters, but I consider myself in good hands with the author who was once a secret service agent himself I was once again fully invested with each character, and the plot took me down a twisty, furtive and thrilling path that I wouldn t mind riding once This book is the first in the Karla trilogy Karla being the working name counterpart to Smiley in the Russian Intelligence agency If all goes as planned, I will be reading the second one next month If you have any interest in reading an authentic espionage thriller, then I highly recommend this or any of le Carr s books They really do deliver I can t forget to mention the movie adaptation expertly cast with Gary Oldman as Smiley and highly entertainingLike an actor, he had a sense of approaching anti climax before the curtain went up, a sense of great things dwindling to a small, mean end as death itself seemed small and mean to him after the struggles of his life A few months ago a stylish looking British adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was released in theaters and I was intrigued But I knew better Movies are for smart people If I had to constantly nudge my wife during Superbad to ask questions like, so who is that guy again and wait, is she the same one from before then I had to admit that seeing this movie would only serve to make me feel very confused and intellectually inadequate I do better with books Books explain things Books are for people who need a little, uh, help in the hand holding department So like any other self respecting moron, I decided to read the book instead or at least, before seeing the movie that way I could have everything explained to me nice, nice.But I was duped.When my friend asked me to go with him to see Tinker Tailor, I told him it was not possible I explained my reasoning while he nodded agreeably, accepting my oddities without judgment But then he said, I think you ll find this to be an exception to your rule In this particular case, you re going to want to have seen this movie before reading the book Trust me What A Freaking Liar.As soon as those last two words were uttered, warning bells should have gone off in my head But I took him at his word and went to see a movie with the most convoluted plot I d ever tried to absorb 120 minutes later I had a raging migraine.I now understood the lengths to which someone would go in order to have a companion at the movies I suppose I can t begrudge a man that small favor, and I was not entirely the worse for wear 800 mg of ibuprofen and a good night s sleep restored my faculties wonderfully And that s when I decided to read the book.John le Carr s novel retains all the plot complexity of the movie and then some, but it is delivered in such a way that is digestible Even though I knew the fate of Colin Firth s character, my pulse still raced at the novel s climax The author opens up a world of secrets, lies, espionage, and scandal that are somewhat missing from my everyday life, but seem to be or less commonplace in a Europe engulfed in the Cold War Mistrust and paranoia run as naturally as snowfall in New England I am generally very glad to have read this book despite having done so after seeing the movie. Spy novels may be best consumed in large gulps by me There is no question that John Le Carr is a brilliant writer, and his plots are peppered with surprise spirals throughout each novel.The one difficulty I had with this book was in the beginning, and it was my own difficulty I had to quickly re acquaint myself with British idiom, with spy jargon, distinguish between those two languages , and process many new players and how they related to characters I already knew from the previous 4 books in this series.Since I wasn t very good at it, the beginning part of this book went slowly for me Not the book s internal pacing, of which John Le Carr is a master, but my own Trying to keep up to the book while deciphering everything I needed to know was a challenge.Once I got a handle on the languages and the cast of characters, I was able to get on board this spy train and what a great ride it was Control knew there was a mole somewhere in the upper echelon, and he knew it was one of five people and their code names were assigned from the Tinker, Tailor children s rhyme George Smiley Beggarman was one of the five However, after Control died and there was a changing of the guard regarding running their Operations including George Smiley s dismissal from service , the mole now had to be one of the remaining four George Smiley s assignment is to find out who that person is.Once I had grasped all the background information, this book flew by in a series of fascinating interviews , action sequences, and other events that all played a role in drawing George Smiley closer to his quarry In the end, this was a very enjoyable and satisfying read I am also looking forward to the next book in the series as there are likely to be many changes for George Smiley to sort through and contribute to. I m going to state the obvious and say John le Carr is a really good writer.This was my first le Carr novel, and I can see why he s considered such a master of the spy genre The story itself was thrilling, but what I most appreciated were his thoughtful descriptions The writing was so insightful that it was easy to become invested in the fate of the characters.A quick plot summary George Smiley is a retired British spy He was forced out during a reorganization of the Circus, a nickname for the intelligence service One day he s approached and asked to discreetly investigate a mole in the agency, someone who s been giving state secrets to Russia George sets to work, getting help from some trusted colleagues It was exciting watching George uncover the mole Even though I knew the ending because I had seen the movie, it was still thrilling Now that s good writing.But this wasn t just a book about finding a double agent no, this was book about friendship, love and loyalty It s about having a purpose in life And it s about betrayal.They shared no harmony They had lost all calmness in one another s company they were a mystery to each other, and the most banal conversation could take strange, uncontrollable directions.Besides Smiley, my favorite character in the book was young Bill Roach, a student at a prep school Roach is a good watcher, and quietly observes things others don t notice For example, Roach observes some odd behavior by the school s new teacher, Jim Prideaux, which suggests he has some secrets Here s an abbreviated early exchange between Jim and Bill that first showed me how well le Carr could write his characters What are you good at, Bill I don t know, sir, said Roach woodenly Got to be good at something, surely everyone is How about football Are you good at football, Bill No, sir, said Roach What s your best thing, then Now this was an unfortunate question to ask of Roach just then, for it occupied most of his waking hours Indeed he had recently come to doubt whether he had any purpose on earth at all In work and play he considered himself seriously inadequate even the daily routine of the school, such as making his bed and tidying his clothes, seemed to be beyond his reach Also he lacked piety old Mrs Thursgood had told him so he screwed up his face too much at chapel He blamed himself for the break up of his parents marriage, which he should have seen coming and taken steps to prevent.Damn, that s a good introduction of a character Rereading it, it s no wonder my heart went out to young Bill so early in the book Speaking of strong introductions, check out this one for Smiley Unlike Jim Prideaux, Mr George Smiley was not naturally equipped for hurrying in the rain, least of all at dead of night Indeed, he might have been the final form for which Bill Roach was the prototype Small, podgy, and at best middle aged, he was by appearance one of London s meek who do not inherit the earth His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill fitting, and extremely wet His overcoat, which had a hint of widowhood about it, was of that black loose weave which is designed to retain moisture Either the sleeves were too long or his arms were too short, for, as with Roach, when he wore his mackintosh, the cuffs all but concealed the fingers For reasons of vanity he wore no hat, believing rightly that hats made him ridiculous.My one criticism of the writing is that the reader has to quickly adapt to the spy jargon, much of it made up by le Carr I thought it was interesting he was inspired to write this novel because of Kim Philby, a real life double agent I recently read Ben Macintyre s book on Philby, A Spy Among Friends, which made me keen to read Tinker, Tailor And now I want to read the rest of the George Smiley series John le Carr is such a popular writer that I hardly need to say this, but I highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes spy thrillers Favorite Quotes He imagined that, like himself, Jim had had a great attachment that had failed him and that he longed to replace But here Bill Roach s speculation met a dead end he had no idea how adults loved each other He would set up as a mild eccentric, discursive, withdrawn, but possessing one or two lovable habits such as muttering to himself as he bumbled along pavements Out of date, perhaps, but who wasn t these days Out of date, but loyal to his own time At a certain moment, after all, every man chooses will he go forward, will he go back There was nothing dishonourable in not being blown about by every little modern wind Better to have worth, to entrench, to be an oak of one s own generation There are always a dozen reasons for doing nothing There is only one reason for doing something And that s because you want to There are old men who go back to Oxford and find their youth beckoning to them from the stones Smiley was not one of them He was of that pre war set that seemed to have vanished for good, which managed to be disreputable and high minded at the same time I have a theory which I suspect is rather immoral Each of us has only a quantum of compassion That if we lavish our concern on every stray cat, we never get to the centre of things Sitting is such an eloquent business any actor will tell you that We sit according to our natures We sprawl and straddle, we rest like boxers between rounds, we fidget, perch, cross and uncross our legs, lose patience, lose endurance If there s one thing that distinguishes a good watcher from a bad one it s the gentle art of doing damn all convincingly Survival, as Jim Prideaux liked to recall, is an infinite capacity for suspicion He wondered whether there was any love between human beings that did not rest upon some sort of self delusion. Whenever I think of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I inevitably think of love love that grants fortitude, love that clouds judgment, love that scars the soul and roots the heart Although it is my experience of the book that guides me, it perhaps also has to do with the 1979 BBC miniseries, with the way Alec Guinness appears stolid and wounded, like an animal to the slaughter hit in the head with a hammer, with each inevitable mention of his wife s beauty, each smirking hint at her chain of adulteries.Of course the book is about many other things besides love it is about the mysterious nature of allegiances and the way they change over time about social class as an inescapable system of markers and man s bathetic attempts to emphasize or erase them about how the look of a system subtly changes when it begins to betray itself about how the illusions which make a man vulnerable also help him survive.Still, though, the book is about love George s love for Ann of course, but Roach s love for his teacher too, Jim s love for Bill Haydon, Bill s love for himself, the outsider Percy s love for the insider s power, barren Connie s love for all her boys Yes, on this much Karla and Smiley may agree it is last illusion of the illusionless man, love.Above all the other loves in the book, though, there is one love who binds closest to herself those whom she betrays, the compromised goddess who requires devotion most particularly from her disillusioned devotees Smiley, true to Ann, is true to her as well Brittania, old England herself. Who can spy on the spiesWe are at the heart of British Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6 For the initiated the CircusTinker, tailor, soldier, spyit s the look at the firm from the inside Author himself worked there for many years and thanks to it I have no problems with his credibility We get to know world of intelligence, its structure, jargonBabysitters, lamplighters , ferrets, shoemakers, scalphuntersSounds really crazy.Intelligence work it is not guns and fast cars and agents themselves look like tired office workers It is tedious, painstaking and endless digging in the archives, reading hundreds of reports to pick out this only one information, it s patiently investigation of every new lead It s an experience of solidarity and friendship but also the bitterness of defeat and betrayal.We are in the middle of cold war and here nothing is what it seems And people from MI6 have to struggle not only with outside threat but most off all with enemy in own ranks Because in the Circus there is a mole spying for Russian LeCarre has populated agency with well drawn, diverse characters George Smiley, apparently slowcoach but in fact fiendishly intelligent and patient, charming Haydon, Prideux a patriot and a soldier, Toby Esterhaze a toady, Percy Alleline fishy careerist, Tarr young tearaway, loyal Guillam and the boss, Control Don t listen if others say that it was boring or unattractive Believe me, there was action than in any thriller and observing the investigation and set a trap was exciting than any pursuit Well, I ve always preferred brainy guys than muscleman with a gun.And don t feel yourself too comfortably Though cold war had ended, though we were witnesses how Berlin Wall collapsed world didn t change that much There is a really thin line betweenusandthemDon t get me wrong, I m not saying that LeCarre is a philosopher or something But after reading some disquieting thoughts hatching up in your head So, welcome to the Circus. I didn t understand half of what I just read, and yet I loved it all the same In John le Carr s real name David Cornwell Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a British intelligence service known as the Circus has been compromised by a mole, a supposed Soviet double agent Former agent George Smiley is called back from retirement to ferret him out This is of a psychological suspense novel than an action filled James Bond spy thriller Smiley is getting up there in years and though he s conversant with a handgun, he s not about to go galavanting about blasting up the countryside The whole novel is much sedate than you might expect when you think of spy thriller And yet in ways, this book is undeniably thrilling Here, I think this passage from Wikipedia explains it better Most of Cornwell s novels are spy stories set during the Cold War 1945 91 and feature Circus agents as unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological than physical drama 21 Cornwell s books emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East West moral equivalence 21 Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible.When you read a book like this, you get the distinct impression that the author has lived this life Frankly, it was quite clear to me that John le Carr worked in the secret service You can t whip out that kind of jargon and insight with only a casual acquaintance with the topic I ve read a few spy novels before and this makes them look childish in comparison.The writing itself is topnotch The character crafting, the stage setting, and the nuance of plot all come off so seamlessly If there was a little action, it wouldn t go amiss, but lack of action aside, Le Carr pens books that are an absolute pleasure to read. I m one of many people who think that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the greatest espionage novel of all time Let s take the obvious things first Unlike most examples of this genre, it s extremely well written Also, having worked in espionage himself, le Carr is able to get the atmosphere right It feels 100% authentic, and you see that spying is like most other jobs The greater part of it is routine and office intrigues, though every now and then something unexpected and dramatic happens.So, even if there were nothing to it, I d still say that this book was very good What makes it great is that the author isn t content with giving you a realistic account of what it s like to be a spy He s gone much further than that, and written a book that s not just about espionage, which most people never come into contact with, but about betrayal, which we see all the time The thing about betrayal is that you re generally aware that it s happening before you know how, or why, or who Things used to be good, and now they re not, and you know that even if you do figure out what s happened you ll never be able to put it right At best, you ll be able to cut your losses, and move on In TTSS, the main character, George Smiley, is being betrayed in two different ways First, it s gradually become clear that there is a mole in his department It can only be someone at the very highest level One of his most trusted colleagues, someone he has worked with for years, and shared things with, and treated as a friend, is actually working for the Russians They have it narrowed down to four people He has to find out which one it is, and do what s necessary And, at the same time, he s also realized that his wife is sleeping around He can t really prove anything, and they never talk about it But he knows that too.I can imagine any number of clumsy, over obvious ways to link up these threads Le Carr does it with a very light touch You see these two things happening, and every now and then there is an echo of correspondence He wants you to be a spy too, and put together the little bits of evidence until you reach a conclusion It s a book that completely transcends the genre, and shows how a writer who has enough talent can achieve stunning results in any medium Strongly recommended to anyone who s ever been betrayed, or themselves betrayed a person they re close to Which, unfortunately, is most of us. I freely admit that I am not smart enough to appreciate this book.The whole thing was way too convoluted for me First I was in one character s head, then another, then back to the first Then there was a third character who mostly made cameo appearances and was clearly unimportant, but we spend time in his head too As if that s not confusing enough, different people narrate different parts of the story as master spy George Smiley highly distracting name, I must say interviews different players who describe their experiences to him Sometimes we re flashing back to George s memories sometimes we re learning what George is reading in the archives in the present day although it feels like it might be a flashback Eventually this all ties together, but I lacked the patience or motivation to understand how or why The absence of a character about whom I cared even a little only added to my increasing disengagement from and disenchantment with the book I spent most of the book wanting to quit but persevering in the hope that I would eventually get why this was a great book Eventually I ended up finishing it just to be sure I wasn t missing something But it seems I was.Apparently this is a classic and much imitated spy novel Maybe this isn t the genre for me then.
John le Carr , the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England , is an English author of espionage novels Le Carr has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for than 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land s End.See also
- 381 pages
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
- John le Carré
- 28 July 2019 John le Carré