22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
An Honourable Read,
This review is from: The Honourable Schoolboy (Paperback)
As traditional rightfully dictates, the middle child of a trilogy is the dark one, the disturbed one, the only one who can beautifully fall beneath the highs set by the firstborn while being redeemed by the mirthful, uplifting potential of the youngest. John le Carre's "The Honourable Schoolboy" is that dark son... a sequel wrought justified into existence by the esteemed "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", and an epic ever darkening the reader towards the final Final, "Smiley's People" (I've reviewed the latter on Amazon as well.)
And an odd child this is. Somewhat messily, the plot lurches not quite forward for the first stretch of the book, each foot without surefooting, hazed by its own misdirections, competent but not quite confident. A lengthy, almost proto-story regarding the re-rise of George Smiley post-"Tinker..." to the station of new Control of a now decimated Circus is, somewhat sophomorically, over delineated; le Carre has never been potent when knowing what the reader needs to know for functionality but not what the reader shouldn't know for the sake of engaging their suspense (that is, on character and layering realism, of course; many of his plots are suspense plots, and thus require the reader to be kept in the dark). Would-be readers apprehensive of the book's considerable heft, do heed this warning: the first hundred pages of this book would be, if asked, surprised to discover that someone is actually reading them.
Yet this is a story that accelerates like a rocket... stillness, s-l-o-w, slow, then a smooth rush up to the heart of the story, Jerry Westerby. Westerby is a staple character subtly fleshed just outside flatness through that old Dickens trick of contrasting a rather normal protagonist against a slew of amusing yet unbelievably histrionic minor characters so outlandish that the reader finds the rather nondescript hero more real, more human, and more relatable (even if he isn't). It's a dirty trick, but what the hey, it works. Without reiterating an outline of plot, the essential story here is Westerby's efforts, as Smiley's Hong-Kong bound spy, to dig up a contact oddly buried by the Soviet mole in "Tinker...". Much will happen in an almost Chandler-eque McGuffin fed series of one-after-another discoveries, all of it, again, Chandler-eque convoluted, and all of it backdropped against the end days of the Vietnam War. Bring coffee, readers, bring strong coffee. In fact, if you're allergic to confusion, you might wish to down espressos beforehand, because even when you finish "The Honourable Schoolboy", you will be confused (I believe some editions of this novel actually had a meek apology from the author for the muddled, illogical ending...?)
So why so highly rated? For a convoluted plot that can't, self-handily, find its own butt over so many hundred of pages, no less? Because, like a rollercoaster, this is not about transporting you from a beginning to end, from A to B as quickly and painlessly as possible, but rather an enjoyment of the ride itself. That is, this is an enjoyable book to read, not finish; and, in fact, the worst moment for me, as a reader, was the finishing of it, and not, rather, finishing it, for it was a book painful to put down. "Tinker..." and "Smiley's People" are better technical accomplishments, for sure, and better thrillers - they are both more suspenseful -, but they fare the worse against their middle brother when it comes to mimetic interchange with the reader. An odd book, then... an uncontrolled baggy monster that accidentally tripped into brilliancy.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 27, 2012 6:13:46 PM PDT
Philip Bradshaw says:
You are absolutely correct. After a somewhat slow beginning this novel was a great ride that I didn't want to get off.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 16, 2012 1:09:03 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 16, 2012 1:09:25 AM PDT
A great review of a great book. My favorite of the three. Unlike "Tinker, Tailor ..." and "Smiley's People", it has a romantic interest (well, maybe romantic obsession is a better description); that of Westerby for Elizabeth (Lizzy, Lisa) Worthington [Worth]). And the author's ability to create memorable cameo characters (a la Dickens, as you say) is nowhere more in evidence than here. The ending is indeed confusing, and I had to go back and re-read it in order to understand that Fawn shoots Westerby.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 27, 2012 4:37:18 AM PDT
I am reading the book. Thanks for spelling out the end. I would expect more from that LeCarre's readers.
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