This is one of the greatest spy novels I ve ever read It s a powerful, ambitious, satisfying sequel to the very great Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy The plot concerns the Circus British espionage unit tracking down a Soviet operation in the far East Smiley rebuilds the shattered agency and hurls it into the fray Without spoilers I can assert that The Honourable Schoolboy takes place largely in south and southeast Asia, with long stretches back in London, and an ultimate focus on Hong Kong Every locale is sharply drawn.The Asian plot plunges into major stories of former Indochina, namely the fall of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge and the conquest of Saigon by the North Vietnamese Those chapters would have been a standalone novel for any other writer le Carre works them into the depths of this single book beautifully, integrating tones, themes, and action.One affecting scene has the book s lead agent, Jerry Westerby the title is his code name , confronting an American spy right after the fall of Saigon The somewhat terrifying, utterly depressed American demands that the Brit shake his hand I want you to extend to me the hand of welcome, sir The United States of America has just applied to join the club of second class powers, of which I understand your own fine nation to be chairman, president, and oldest member Shake it436 Without spoiling, I can view the plot as a detailed description of a single intelligence operation, from start to finish Or as an epic of moral compromises and attempted redemptions note the plural Or a thick slice of a thin moment in Cold War history The details are extraordinary, from the micropolitics of inter governmental lobbying to the intricacies of a city quarter to many minor characters Honourable is gorgeously written, with passages that range from lyrical to brooding, snarling to contemplative I ve been noting and reading aloud bits from throughout the novel The tiny ponds outside the high rise hotels prickled with slow, subversive rain 5 Nobody learned anything, nothing changed, the offal was cleaned away in the morning 331 First, Smiley reviewed the wreck, and that took some while, in the way that sacking a city takes some while, or liquidating great numbers of people 54 L ittle ships, as Craw knew very well, cannot change course as easily as the winds that drive them 192 Smiley These people terrify me, but I am one of them If they stab me in the back, then at least that is the judgment of my peers 533 Talking of others, old men talk about themselves, studying their image in varnished mirrors 236 While the Americans are adding another five metres of concrete to the Embassy roof, and the soldiers are crouching in capes under their trees, and the journalists are drinking whisky, and the generals are at the opium houses, the Khmer Rouge will come out of the jungle and cut our throats 346 Smiley again To be inhuman in defense of our humanity, he had said, harsh in defense of compassion To be single minded in defense of our disparity 460 On Britain s elite Jerry Westerby had never seriously doubted, in his vague way, that his country was in a state of irreversible decline, or that his own class was to blame for the mess 449 On getting into something incredibly dangerous Sometimes you did it to save face, thought Jerry, other times you just do it because you haven t done your job unless you ve scared yourself to death Other times again, you go in order to remind yourself that survival is a fluke But mostly you go because the others go for machismo and because in order to belong you must share 341 Reading matters a great deal, as is usually the case every medium calls out to itself Westerby chooses Conrad over Voltaire, just before heading into the fall of republican Cambodia 328 He s a failed novelist, but very skilled in espionage, arguably as a kind of sublimation An American spy compares one account to espionage fiction, to something out of Phillips Oppenheim 171 When I finished the book I reread the last two pages several times, teasing out implications, savoring phrases, and letting the mixture of triumph and melancholy wash over me Then I started to read the whole book from the first chapter, and only now have forced myself to stop in order to write this review Enough.I really, really want to read Smiley s People, the next book in this sequence, but am going to let some time pass in order to give The Honourable Schoolboy richly deserved space to breath in my memory and imagination. I and the public knowWhat all schoolchildren learn,Those to whom evil is doneDo evil in return. W.H AudenYet it s not for want of future that I m here, he thought It s for want of a presentJohn le Carr , The Honourable Schoolboy Well sport, this was a messy, sometimes uneven AND occasionally a plodding novel but I absolutely loved every single word of it This is the second book of le Carr s Karla trilogy Perhaps, the greatest spy trilogy ever While people focus on the first book, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I personally love this one Le Carr is often compared to Graham Greene, but the only real literary comparison for this novel is Joseph Conrad I was wondering why I kept thinking of Victory and Nostromo, and why I was overcome with this desire to read The Secret Agent Conrad s ghost floats and haunts almost every page of this wonderful, beautiful, and sad spy novel. John Le Carr S Classic Novels Deftly Navigate Readers Through The Intricate Shadow Worlds Of International Espionage With Unsurpassed Skill And Knowledge And Have Earned Him And His Hero, British Secret Service Agent George Smiley Unprecedented Worldwide AcclaimIn This Classic Masterwork, Le Carr Expands Upon His Extraordinary Vision Of A Secret World As George Smiley Goes On The AttackIn The Wake Of A Demoralizing Infiltration By A Soviet Double Agent, Smiley Has Been Made Ringmaster Of The Circus Aka The British Secret Service Determined To Restore The Organization S Health And Reputation, And Bent On Revenge, Smiley Thrusts His Own Handpicked Operative Into Action Jerry Westerby, The Honourable Schoolboy, Is Dispatched To The Far East A Burial Ground Of French, British, And American Colonial Cultures, The Region Is A Fabled Testing Ground Of Patriotic Allegiances And A New Showdown Is About To Begin I m a longtime reader of the espionage genre beginning as just a lad and although I massively enjoyed all of John LeCarre s earlier works and particularly his George Smiley series I must call out The Honourable Schoolboy for especial recognition This penultimate work of that series is really the triumph of LeCarre s career the point at which he reached the full breadth and scope of his powers Afterwards although he enjoyed further achievements I suggest that he never again eclipses this colossal, supreme effort of authorship I name it the single greatest espionage novel ever penned Pound for pound in any one on one matchup versus any other stand alone title it has no peer Read on if you wish to learn why.First it is a lengthy book much longer than most others in the genre and written with rich, subtle prose Prose honed by two decades of LeCarre s experience with the novel form Every chapter is liquid, supple, silky His best writing in a long time Splendidly restrained, tempered, calm, and observant throughout It s a sustained exercise in pacing and suspense which exists nowhere else in the genre, handled as finely.Second just as one would expect, there s an intricate and meandering unfolding of plot But here as always in leCarre it is supported by an enormous array of warm, chewy, savory characterizations More than he s ever tried before, I think George Smiley is here Peter Guillam Saul Enderby Connie Sachs Molly Meakin all the regulars who make the rest of the Karla saga so great But there are new and unforgettable exotics such as Tiny Ricardo , Crazy Luke , Old Craw , The Rocker Thoroughly inventive.And certainly just as in any novel of intrigue there s a web of interlocking relationships uniting all these creations But these characters don t just sit around in offices as they do in some of LeCarre s earlier works They act They move The story bounces and ricochets all over the lawless by ways of early 1970s Hong Kong It explodes over the pages Now, in his protagonist we meet what may be LeCarre s most human, likeable character ever Jerry Westerby, foreign correspondent the eponymous schoolboy Affable, courageous, cynical, seasoned A complete and sympathetic version of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold sAlec Leamasplayed by Richard Burton in the hit movie.But Westerby is not dead inside , not a shell He has the passion and idealism which the bitter and deflated Leamas completely lacked he is the ideal sort of reckless figure to support a journey narrative as LeCarre gives us here He doesn t just skulk sullenly around Mayfair or Brighton He is one of those Britons who tramps all over the globe, TE Lawrence style This globe trotting is one of the story s main themes dying empire.And that theme is grandly unfurled You ll see immediately that the plot is set not just in Hong Kong as bookcovers might suggest Events and incidents in Schoolboy range all over SE Asia This is a startling, refreshing, and welcome change from the usual trenchcoat tales which always feature dreary Berlin and London Not since Eric Ambler, had any author made international settings the backdrop to a tale of treachery LeCarre merges Ambler s fun format with his own introspective, deeply psychological storytelling which is very different even than what Graham Greene does And as you can immediately see, LeCarre really stretches all out with research for this sprawling yarn Combat was still ongoing when he visited the East and he captures some of the best ever visual imagery from that landscape You will be wide eyed at the descriptions of war torn South Vietnam You will visit Laos, Cambodia, Saigon First hand This is some of the most vivid Vietnam era prose you will ever encounter It s also a gesture of homage to the grand days of the Far East under British rule.What else Well, there is romance in Schoolboy Westerby wears his heart on his sleeve , sadness and sexuality Lizzie Worthington there is weariness and cynicism Smiley, Ann issues of loyalty a fiendish little Peter Lorre like character named Fawn and family Drake Nelson Ko, two mysterious Chinese brothers there are smarmy colleagues and old boys betraying each other There is all manner of foiled schemes and collapsed lives abandoned hopes and tainted ideologies So this is far than mere espionage It s a rummage bin of motley, worn out, subjects of the Queen, all struggling with agonizing inner concerns their duties, obligations, and lusts And they re set off against a caustic, dispiriting, new frontier of money, injustice, and murder Thus, it s a timely novel by any measure.That s in addition to laying a new cornerstone in British spy fiction You may as well consider it the most fully formed, most mature, most robust espionage novel yet produced in English literature For that s what it is This is the lone title to judge all others by Previously, that torch was held by Somerset Maugham, or Greene, or LeCarre himself But now, only Len Deighton s Game, Set, Match, series a trilogy, mind you can favorably compare in depth and breadth to just this one, extraordinary LeCarre masterpiece I m not done yet I can and shall go on with my review The praise I ve ladled out so far may sound extravagant, but I ve hardly scratched the surface Let me put it this way Schoolboy is not just my favorite spy novel it is also my personal favorite British novel since WWII, and actuallyyes, maybe even of the entire Twentieth century. A sweeping statement from me but yes, it is that superb And I ll explain why.Its partly because Le Carre writes about society from a unique perspective unavailable to most authors He has Dickensian attention to detail and theme you can say this about other moderns too, of course But only in the same way that Charles Dickens portrayed his own era of Britain by describing from top to bottom institutions like law, labor, industrialization, banking, or prisons, can and does LeCarre express our own time by addressing the world of espionage and conspiracy This is the lodestone for our era as nothing else is and LeCarre writes as an insider.Its partly also because LeCarre doesn t offer us just conventional characters from the covert world the fetter of far too many of his competitors His espionage is an all embracing literary device Schoolboy draws its dramatis personae from all quarters of society politics, journalism, academia, drugs, arms, the courts, the class system, economics, commercial trade, industrial trade, or even the church His characters speak from knowledgeable positions within all of these spheres They represent a Greek chorus which can only be enlisted by John LeCarre s special kind of storytelling his singular flair for narrating institutional psychologies He illuminates these dynamos for us all these engines of our era from the inside This is why espionage is so valuable as a genre, by the way and why LeCarre leads it One point Schoolboy is great because of the timeperiod in which LeCarre wrote Who else was better positioned than LeCarre, to describe the fading rays of English colonialism Who else there to witness the long decline and fall Who else to sum up the whole postwar epoch Who else to deliver both bureaucracy diplomacy to lay readers Who else to delineate the new era of geo maneuvering Only LeCarre can craft a tale with a fine grained cross section of such grand themes, events, personalities all at once From the highest corridors of political power, down to the dullest middle class drudges of London s suburbs, down to the meanest, alley scrabbling police informant, he roves his eye.No, there s really no surpassing The Honourable Schoolboy either as a spy novel or a novel of the modern world at large Think of Schoolboy as John LeCarre returning in triumph to the compacted, ultra pressurized motifs which made The Spy Who Came In from the Cold so potent, and re igniting everything contained there, on a now enormous scale It s not just a spy story, it s a document of colonialism and empire LeCarre is the only man who can make sense of it all It s what we re all crying out for in this frightening age of government mandarins and official denials. I label it the best reading experience of our time, the best description of our grim, continuing to crumble, post WWII era. One of the few bright spots is how the author wrote the 1970s colonized Hong Kong, I also enjoy how the author described the international spy network and how those spies work, but all the good things I have to say about this book end here The characters are rather flat, the plot and the war among spies slow paced and uninteresting In the end I don t care what might happen to any of those characters So it s a disappointed 2 stars. I and the public knowWhat all schoolchildren learn,Those to whom evil is doneDo evil in return W.H AudenWhat if you devoted your entire life to something because you thought it was the right thing, the good thing, the moral thing, and then you ended your life wondering if you had been completely wrong It happens to a lot of people, particularly because things shift on us as the years go by and change in ways we do not notice or acknowledge, and because with age comes wisdom, or if not wisdom, perhaps just clearer vision.MacArthur famously said, Old Soldiers never die, they just fade away Perhaps the same can be said of old spies, cold wars, and people who live on the fringe of society, just clambering for survival And, if they have not died, but are only faded, can they be restored These were some of the thoughts I had while reading this novel, because John le Carre is one of those who sees the underbelly of life, and the betrayals it contains, and does not flinch The time is 1974 75, Vietnam is falling from the hands of the Americans, Southeast Asia is a hotbed of activity, legal and illegal, the British still exercise control of a sort over Hong Kong, and all the major powers are jockeying for power The Russians are actively working the Asian world for intelligence, and Karla, Smiley s nemesis is playing cards that the British and Americans don t even know he is holding.Enter George Smiley, an aging British spy, who still carries the moral code and convictions of World War II, but must try to fit that image of the world into a cynical, less forgiving, reality He releases into this malestrom a seasoned operative by the name of Jerry Westerby, a man who seems so isolated and lonely that he made me ache, another man who has given his life to an occupation that breeds doubt and insecurity in men who are so seemingly strong and fearless And, another man who is questioning what it has all been about.Peter Guilliam sums it up rather well, I thought, and in doing so lays out the basic premise of the entire book One day, thought Guillam, as he continued listening, one of two things will happen to George He ll cease to care or the paradox will kill him If he ceases to care, he ll be half the operator he is If he doesn t, that little chest will blow up from the struggle of trying to find the explanation for what we do.This is the sixth book in the Smiley series, and the second in the Karla Trilogy, and what I have observed in reading them is that George Smiley s struggle to reconcile the job he does the terrible consequences that often go with it, the deception and the sacrifices is constant, never ending, and personally costly That he survives at all is miraculous, but he does, because he is the heart and conscience of the Circus, and eventually the heart is needed or the body dies One last thought, if anyone can write a complex, intricate, entangled plot without failing to leave even the slightest element dangling, I have never encountered them This is a spy novel, of course, but it is oh so much When you close the book, you will not leave the characters or the story behind, and you will see parallels all around you in our own society, in the duplicitousness of government, in the way some people play chess with other people s lives, in the way sometimes everyone loses. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a tough act to follow, but I must admit I was expecting At first, I thought that s exactly what I was getting but then the mind numbing second third happened and I was lost in a way I never was in Tinker Tailor I still don t have a clear understanding of what happened in the book or with my interest in it.All I know is that I got sick of reading about Jerry I got sick of Guillam s overdone fawning I got sick of the female characters including Connie portrayed as little else than objects or victims of a man s obsession Smiley himself, he was a changed man in this Still, the story had its good moments, and when it was good it was oh, so very good. The ending with its rebirth almost reassured me enough to forget all my troubles with this book Almost. John le Carr calls Hong Kong the world capital of espionage of the seventies There on the invisible battlefields the unseen combats are being fought But the invisibility doesn t make the m l es less cruel Clandestinity just makes spy battles much psychologically complex A redhead, which was half way to whoredom for a start Not enough breast to nurse a rabbit, and worst of all a fierce eye for arithmetic They said he found her in the town whore again From the first day, she had not let him out of her sight Clung to him like a child Ate with him, and sulked drank with him, and sulked shopped with him, picking up the language like a thief, till they became a minor local sight together, the English giant and his sulking wraith whore, trailing down the hill with their rush basket the schoolboy, in his tattered shorts, grinning at everyone, and the scowling orphan, in her whore s sackcloth with nothing underneath, so that though she was plain as a scorpion the men stared after her to see her hard haunches rock through the fabric She walked with all her fingers locked round his arm and her cheek against his shoulder, and she only let go of him to pay out meanly from the purse she now controlled When they met a familiar face, he greeted it for both of them, flapping his vast free arm like a Fascist And God help the man who, on the rare occasion when she went alone, ventured a fresh word or a wolf call she would turn and spit like a gutter cat, and her eyes burned like the devil s The language is outright juicy Sam had ranged a little wider in his enquiries than Head Office had sanctioned Hard pressed, he had gone to the pedlars rather than file a nil return He had fixed himself a side deal with the local Cousins Or the local security services had blackmailed him in Sarratt jargon the angels had put a burn on him and he had played the case both ways in order to survive and smile and keep his Circus pension To read Sam s moves, Smiley knew that he must stay alert to these and countless other options A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world All s fair in love and espionage The Honourable Schoolboy has its special stress not on spying but on the psychological subtleties of undercover affairs. In the review I wrote for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy I mentioned that it took me a while to accustom myself to the spy jargon as well as many of the British idioms It gave me a very strange feeling to start reading this episode 6 in the George Smiley series and discover 1 the British idioms are offset by the fact that the Circus centre of espionage in London is balanced, and often explained by the Cousins their American counterparts, based in Langley, Virginia and 2 the definitions of the spy terms are woven seamlessly into the narrative itself So we not only know who the Circus and the Cousins are, but we also know what Housekeeping is, what the Nursery is, and the many other phrases for departments within the British secret service This novel takes place largely in China Hong Kong, for the most part However, it also takes us to other parts of Asia and there are a few side trips to London where George Smiley has been doing everything possible to pull together a stronger team after exposing the mole Russia had planted high in the ranks of the Circus See Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for that story While he is busy ensuring all bugs are cleaned out and missing records are cobbled together out of the pieces that remain, an entire Chinese development is underway.Coordinating the new development as well as wrestling some order and security back into being is a huge connected project for any one person With his usual calm and quiet, but sharp intelligence, George Smiley is pulling everything together successfully, despite potshots from the Cousins and even some of his own team How this all plays out is a credit to the author s amazing storytelling.John Le Carr s writing in this book is simply outstanding The characters were all well developed some of them I loved, some of them disgusted me, some of them I felt deep empathy for, and there were some that I just didn t know how I felt about them Some had crystal clear motivation, some had mixed motives, and some didn t know what they wanted for themselves or what they wanted to accomplish.The descriptive parts of the book were also excellent In his introductory piece, John Le Carr writes that he spent some months in China researching for this book He traveled around with a group of journalists and also spent time getting to know the hang outs for many different classes of people His research is woven so smoothly into this novel that I felt like I was there myself This is what great writers can achieve carry us along on a journey we might never be able to take in real life, but create it so well and with such detail that we live it, too.If you enjoy great storytelling, tangible atmosphere, plots with multiple threads that twine themselves together into an absorbing pattern, and fascinating characters, I can happily recommend this book to you. Popular opinion has it that this is the weakest of the three Karla novels I thought it was a masterpiece, and a ambitious novel than Tinker, Tailor.It is very different from the last book suddenly there is this unexpectedly huge scope of Southeast Asia to go alongside the muted meetings in grey London office rooms I can well understand how some readers might have felt it was two books jammed together, but for me the contrast worked perfectly and I was riveted by how brilliantly Le Carr unfurls the story The writing here is simply incredible I can t think of another writer who could have me on the edge of my seat with a twenty page description of an interdepartmental meeting, but somehow that s what we get here Here s the halfway point of the meeting, after several pages of close, detailed description just admire how easily he suddenly slips into this spare, witty style Lunch, Martindale announced without much optimism They ate it upstairs, glumly, off plastic catering trays delivered by van The partitions were too low and Guillam s custard flowed into his meat.The Southeast Asia sections are wonderfully accomplished We have thumbnail sketches of the Laotian capital, the Cambodian Civil War, rich descriptions of pre handover Hong Kong Jerry Westerby, the hack reporter who doubles as an occasional stringer for British Intelligence, is a character who will ring true to anyone who s worked in journalism As a reporter myself, I ve never yet read a better description of why journalists do dangerous things for so little money why they get out of the car, cross the road, head towards the gunshots Sometimes you do it to save face, thought Jerry, other times you just do it because you haven t done your job unless you ve scared yourself to death Other times again, you go in order to remind yourself that survival is a fluke But mostly you go because the others go for machismo and because in order to belong you must share.Oh that s wonderful and practically thrown away in the middle of a paragraph This comes in a long, virtuoso section which sees Jerry digging up information on a contact under cover of writing a story on frontline fighting in Cambodia The book is full of such delights everything from tiny foreign airline lounges to fashion shows to opium dens have an air of truth to them I don t know if Le Carr is drawing on personal experiences, or if he just writes so well that I believe anything he says Either way it makes this book a pleasure.There are flaws The final third is less good than what comes before, and the one main female character is too much of a damsel in distress, who has really no reason except convention for falling for our antihero But I ll take that, for the joys of reading a spy novel I can actually believe, with some descriptive set pieces of The East that are unmatched.
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
- 589 pages
- The Honourable Schoolboy
- John le Carré
- 02 May 2019 John le Carré