John Le Carré George Smiley novels, how do I love thee? I can count the ways. The writing, the characters, the plot, the locations, the dialogue, the relationships. Wow. If you haven’t read any of these, read one now. NOW!
Smiley’s People is the third in the series featuring George Smiley and the Soviet spymaster Karla. While it comes after events of The Honourable Schoolboy, in its setting, tone and cast of characters it is more of a companion piece to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
It is some years after the events of that novel, and George has once again gone into retirement, living a monk’s life in the marital home that his wife has once again abandoned. A Russian émigré and ex-source is found dead on Hampstead Heath, apparently the victim of a Soviet assassination, and the enigmatic and remote Smiley is drawn back into the ‘Circus’ to tie up any embarrassing loose ends that might arise from the murder investigation. I don’t want to say anything more than that in case I give something away.
This was another audiobook to get my through marathon training, and Michael Jayston does a wonderful job. My only complaint has nothing to do with his excellent read, and everything to do with the tears of joy-inducing quality of Le Carré’s prose. His descriptions of Smiley, the way his glasses and raincoat can impart his state of mind, bear re-reading and dwelling over in a way that isn’t possible with an audiobook. I’ve promised myself that my first book of 2014 will be reading this with my own eyes. It’s BRILLIANT!
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a book that everyone should read. It’s not a perfect masterpiece of fiction, but boy is it good. If you saw the movie, directed by Thomas Alfredson you might be surprised by how the book differs (and yet not) from the plot of the movie. This is a good reason to read the book too.
John le Carré took a very long time to write Tinker, Tailor. The edition I read, had a very interesting forward by le Carré from 1991, in which he explains how his original draft for the novel revolved around Jim Prideaux, but he couldn’t make the story work from an internal point of view. The character of George Smiley didn’t exist in the first drafts, but his addition—as an outsider to the Circus (a thinly disguised MI-6) during the timeline of the story—solved myriad problems and propels the story into being one of the greatest spy novels of all time.
Mrs Smith Reads Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
For years I assumed that Le Carré was Dad Lit, along the lines of Tom Clancy or John Grisham. Blame those glossy 80s covers, I guess, or my own Dad’s appreciation of them. Sorry, Dad. It took the combined forces of Oldman, Hardy, Cumberbatch, Strong & Firth (not to mention my beloved Kathy Bates) in the recent top drawer film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Solider Spy to get me to read the Karla trilogy, which I roared through and absolutely adored. I had no idea that this holiday-home-reading-shelf staple was so brilliantly witty, wry, sharp, sad, and surprisingly queer, both poignant and pointed about the decline of the Empire viewed in the microcosm of MI6.
Le Carré is that rare creature, a sure bet. His books are always good-to-excellent, and even though his latest isn’t quite in the league of his masterpieces, it’s still a killer read with a sharp edge to it. Like the recent headline says, he ain’t mellowed with age. This is a story with teeth.
It took me a little while to ease into it, which is probably more my fault than the novel, but once I let the familiar elements grip me – a lone man in the system, pervasive corruption, opacity, sex, dryly observed social mores, the anti-glamour of the secret world of the foreign service – I was riveted. Without giving too much away, it starts in 2008 with a man in a hotel room, on a top secret mission, and then goes ahead four years later, where many people have to deal with the unforeseen consequences of that evening. Deadly stuff.