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The Honourable Schoolboy Paperback – June 7, 2011
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“Not a page of this book is without intelligence and grace.”—The New York Times
“Energy, compassion, rich and overwhelming sweep of character and action…one of the finest English novels of the seventies.”—The Times (UK)
“All the good things are there: the Balkan complexities of plot; the Dickensian profusion of idiosyncratic characters; and above all, le Carré’s glistening social observation.”—Time
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author John le Carré (A Delicate Truth and Spy Who Came in from the Cold) was born in 1931 and attended the universities of Bern and Oxford. He taught at Eton and served briefly in British Intelligence during the Cold War. For the last fifty years he has lived by his pen. He divides his time between London and Cornwall.
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The novel begins at a leisurely pace and accelerates throughout as good thrillers tend to do. It can be enjoyed as a thriller because it's a great ride. I read it as quickly as possible the first time. Now, I savor it.
This is my third copy of this work, a present from my youngest son who notes on the fly-leaf that it, in it s turn, is "A replacement for a well-used book." This copy is already six years old and is displaying evidence of many re-readings, as do all my "Smiley" series!
Of course le Carré, as usual in his craft, builds magnificent tension and intrigue whilst evoking Hong Kong ("Honkers") into a reality for the readers who have never been there, or a fond recollected memory for those who have. His usual strong character and ambience building is in evidence again in this story but, for me, the hero of this book is not the real one (The Honorable Gerald Westerby, "Horse Writer" and hack and amazingly resourceful "London Occasional" spy) but a beautifully crafted incidental persona called Fawn.
Sharing the "babysitting" (body guarding) of George Smiley with Peter Guillam, Fawn is described as a hovering dark-eyed factotum ... a sleek diminutive creature, who, when Smiley does one of his usual disappearing acts and leaves Fawn behind - or gives him the slip - Fawn seems to literally pine for his master. Guillam discovers him in his little den one evening is shocked to find Fawn "in a near-foetal crouch, winding a handkerchief around and round his thumb like a ligature, in order to hurt himself".
The odorous Roddy Martingdale, a single and very singular senior Civil Servant is accompanying Peter and Smiley after a secret meeting when Fawn flutters up, Crying out for his `Chief' and waving a note. He is intercepted by Peter and the note is confiscated and Fawn sent away in disgrace for creating a fuss, with Peter Guillam hissing"....bloody little drama queen racing around London in your gym shoes!" Martingdale is entranced, quite breathless with excitement... "What are darling little creature ... are all spies as pretty as that ... how positively Venetian. I shall volunteer at once!"
Yet Fawn's fellow Departmental "heavies" are afraid of him, with good reason ... as the story unfolds in the finale, le Carré produces, in a few scant and clever lines, a powerful image that reflects Fawn's sinister skills and his even more sinister role in the story's ending that is shortly to follow. It is decided to send the taut and impatient Fawn into the field, into the final action ..."Where Fawn had stood, two squash-balls slowly rolled a distance before coming to a halt. "God help us all", somebody murmured fervently."
I have never read another author who can set the mood of a book as accurately as Le Carré nor another who can tell a story of the main character through the eyes of the ancillary characters so well. His characters are emotive and yet amoral and his plots are startlingly realistic. This has every great quality of the spy genre without all of the clichés and truly stands out for it. In The Honourable Schoolboy Le Carré has brought us another one of his fantastic characters, Jerry Westerby, and one step closer to what I expect to be the stunning conclusion of the iconic Karla trilogy.