Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Abridged) Audible Audiobook – Abridged
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|Listening Length||3 hours|
|Author||John le Carré|
|Narrator||John le Carré|
|Audible.com Release Date||October 01, 2015|
|Publisher||Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd|
|Best Sellers Rank||
#253,333 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals)
#2,416 in Espionage Thrillers (Audible Books & Originals)
#4,666 in Crime Thrillers (Audible Books & Originals)
#11,012 in Military Thrillers (Books)
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The story takes place in 1973. It opens with Jim Prideaux, former British agent, being hired as a substitute teacher at a boys’ prep school. “Control” (head of Britain’s intelligence service, MI6) has died, George Smiley (Control’s chief lieutenant) has been sacked, Operation Testify (Prideaux’s last op in Czechoslovakia) ended in abject failure, and “Circus” (MI6), has been reorganized under a new chief.
Then, a British agent named Ricki Tarr comes across information that the Soviets are running a mole in the Circus, who is code-named “Gerald.” Oliver Lacon, the Civil Service officer responsible for MI6 oversight, approaches Smiley and asks him to investigate. As the novel unfolds, Smiley discovers that there is a mole, he is a double agent feeding the Circus bad Soviet intel, and he is responsible for blowing Prideaux’s op.
It is a testament to John Le Carré’s skill as a writer that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a page-turner despite the fact that it contains so little action. Instead, the plot moves forward and the truth is revealed by means of conversations, flashbacks, and Smiley’s seemingly inexhaustible memory. Smiley walks us through the wilderness one mirror at a time until we see reality.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the fifth of seven novels in which George Smiley plays a part and the first of Le Carré’s famed “Karla Trilogy,” in which Smiley matches wits with “Karla,” head of “Moscow Center” (the KGB). It is followed by The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People. Of the five novels I have read so far, this and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (in which Smiley plays a small role) are the best.
Interestingly, Le Carré is releasing what is billed as a new George Smiley novel in September. It’s called A Legacy of Spies, and I look forward to reading it after I finish this series.
There's much debate about whether Le Carré (né David Cornwell) is a literary writer or just at the top of spy novelists. I believe he's both. This novel, in particular, has a lot of biographical material, thinly disguised. I read a biography of Le Carré at the same time as the course. There are many parallels to Philby's life, and much is taken from David Cornwell's experience as a member of the two British Secret Service organizations, MI5 and MI6. You can easily see where some of the characters were drawn from. Not necessarily so blatant as to be actual profiles, but the similarities are obvious. Reportedly, Le Carré"s friends liked the idea of their names being used in his novels, or their serving as inspiration for a character.
Highly recommended for those who like spy fiction and appreciate good writing.
Le Carre's story is intricately plotted and smoothly paced. The story moves along even as the author emphasizes that true espionage work is painstaking and not particularly flashy. He does a great job of building the world of "the Circus" and "Moscow Central."
But, for whatever reason, Le Carre's characters don't come alive for me on the page. I found myself recalling how Guinness (or, a couple of times, Oldman) played a scene to give me the connection to the Smiley of the novel. I relied on my memory of Ian Richardson and Clive Owen to flesh out Bill Haydon . . . and so forth. I can't put my finger on what it is about Le Carre's writing that distances me from almost all of the characters; perhaps it's because so much of the book is told from the perspective of Peter Guillam, who isn't that interesting a character for me. But there is one character that really worked for me: Jim Prideaux, the British spy who is betrayed at the beginning of the book and whose loneliness and isolation is so painful. I felt his suspicion and sympathized with the hurt he must have felt, particularly as he faced the truth of what led to his being shot and captured. Ian Bannen's and Mark Strong's performances in the mini-series and film, respectively, are each quite vivid and effective, but I found that I didn't need them in order to connect with the Jim on the page.
Top international reviews
I think this is a really good book, and reflects well the cold war period and the hostility & suspicion which existed between the two armed camps, NATO and the Soviet Union. It moves at a good pace, and the characters are very much of the time. After all this time it is really quite a period piece, and a good read for anyone who is not familiar with the period of the Cold War and its tensions, as well as anyone who loves a good spy story.
Although there are previous books in the Smiley series (this is book 5), in my opinion "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" would be suitable as the first to read - to be followed by the other two books in the trilogy that forms the heart of the series: The Honourable Schoolboy (George Smiley Series Book 6) and Smiley's People.
If you are looking for action a la Fleming or Ludlum, then this is not for you; but if your desire is for a spy story that is deep and rich in detail, then this book will delight you.
An understanding, or appreciation, of the Cold War that raged in the decades after WW II is not essential to enjoyment of the book but it will enhance it because it helps you grasp what is driving the story and, most importantly, the characters. Comparing this book to real-life spy stories coming out of the Cold War era, such as Ben MacIntyre’s superb ‘The Spy and the Traitor’ about Oleg Goridievsky (thoroughly recommended!), it is amazing to see how how close to reality the tale actually is.
This time around, I read the book close after watching the BBC’s superb 70’s dramatisation of the novel starring Alec Guinness - and this has really helped to flesh out (almost literally) the characters in the book. The adaptation is incredibly close to the source material and I find myself not only visualising the scenes as they play out but vocalising (in my head) the conversations as they are portrayed on screen - a very interesting and enriching experience.
All in all, this is a great read and I cannot recommend it enough.
After the opening school chapter, we launch into a spy story, the central character, George Smiley, described as the sort of man Bill Roach might become as an adult. This description served as another hint that, in this Russian doll of a book, I was reading the boy’s story, where he imagines his future self pursuing a Russian mole working for British intelligence.
The title, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, of course, comes from a nursery rhyme - tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor... This title sums up much of the novel’s subtlety. There’s a suggestion once again of that link with a childhood game, and of the way our roles in life, doled our arbitrarily in the words of the rhyme, are misleading labels for something more complex. After all, the book presents spies as indistinguishable from ordinary people. In fact spies are better at their job if they are indistinguishable from ordinary people. There’s also a nod in the rhyme to the interchangeability of roles between one side and the other, a situation of double agents who seem to be the embodiment of one system, when they also working for the enemy.
The job of writer isn’t in the Tinker Tailor title, but it could come just after Spy. Spies are often referred to as watchers in the book, and what is a writer if he or she is not a watcher, working for their own little agency? In this case the intelligence offered us is not perfect. Point of view flits about which can be confusing. The portrayal of women is hardly progressive. Nevertheless this was a dossier received with much interest at my own agency.
His more recent books are crafted in a more articulate speedy style - therefore for my taste much more engaging and riveting.
I found it impossible to believe the fabled gorgeous Ann would be the wife of a small fat stocky man, despite his cerebral magnificence. I found it very dated with it's references to sculleries etc but then that was how kitchens were named. I haven't quite finished it, the tension now nicely building to a satisfying finish..?
Glad to have reread nevertheless.
So, even if there were nothing more 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 Carré 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.
'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' may have been written over 40 years ago, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable spy thriller of top quality.
The story and writing is faultless and stands the test of time with ease
If you only read on spy novel in your life it has to be this one as nothing else compares
Set at the height of the Cold War it recounts the search for a 'mole' within the upper echelons of the Secret Service. George Smiley, 'an old spy in a hurry' is brought back from the involuntary retirement into which he had been pushed just a couple of years previously. He reluctantly accedes to be commissioned to investigate an allegation that one of the four officers at the head of MI6 might in fact be a long-established Russian spy.
'It's the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies? Who can smell out the fox without running with him?' This is the question put to Smiley by Oliver Lacon, 'Whitehall's head prefect' after he has explained the evidence that has finally convinced him of the existence of the mole. There are four suspects: Percy Alleline ('Tinker'), dour Scotsman and acting Chief of Service; Bill Haydon ('Tailor'), flamboyant wunderkind, alternately mentor and hero to the Service's younger generation of aspirants; Roy Bland ('Soldier'), would-be academic and ultimate self-seeking pragmatist; and Toby Esterhase ('Poor Man'), opportunistic Hungarian émigré desperate for promotion and convinced that no-one shows him the respect he deserves.
Control, the former head of the Service, had reached managed to reach this far before, acting entirely on his own, but as his health rapidly failed he embarked upon one wild last throw to flush the traitor out. This was the venture subsequently known as 'Operation Testify', alluded to throughout the book though the full extent of its disastrous nature is only revealed near the end.
The reverberations of Operation Testify echo through the Service for years afterwards. Control is forced into retirement and dies almost immediately. In the reorganisation that followed Smiley was also pushed into retirement. Alleline takes over, with Haydon as his deputy, and the new world order seem to have begun.
On the other side of the world, however, Ricki Tarr, a rough and ready member of the Service, accustomed to infiltrating gun-running gangs, meets Irina, a Russian agent in Hong Kong. Their affair is hectic and hasty, and she tells Tarr of the greatest secret that she knows: there is a Soviet mole, with the code name 'Gerald' in the highest echelons of the Service. She does not know many details but does have enough facts to convince Tarr that she is telling the truth. He passes the information back to the Circus, but receives no reply. However, Irina is almost immediately rounded up by her Soviet minders and shipped back to Russia.
Tarr goes underground and eventually makes his way back to London where he contacts Guillam, and through him Lacon. The witch hunt has begun. Smiley has to track them down through the paperwork, secured through deft chicanery by his one ally on the inside, the redoubtable Peter Guillam whose own career was truncated.
Le Carre offers none of the glamour and fantasy world cavortings of Ian Fleming's 'James Bond' novels. Smiley and his associates have to grapple with the shabby and entirely mundane underbelly of the espionage world, working back through the files, and eye-witness accounts of previous failed operations. There is absolutely no glamour or sparkle about the story at all, though that serves to boost its compelling nature.
It is also immensely redolent of the early 1970s. All the way through the book characters are freezing cold, huddled in their coats and struggling to generate any warmth at all. The enigmas and moral dilemmas, though, remain timeless.
This is a fascinating and engaging novel, that improves with every re-reading. The excellent BBC television series captured the feel of the novel very well,though the book (as is so often the case) is even better. Don't bother with the Gary Oldman film though - I haven't seen such a dreadful screen adaptation of an excellent book since they butchered [The Bonfire of the Vanities].
At the heart of the story it is a study in human nature as you can't be a spy without understanding what makes people tick, their needs, wants, what drives them. Rarely it is money, although pure greed can crop up.
For some it can be a need to exercise control at a distance, seeming to be one thing yet being quite another.
The classic example always quoted are the Burgess and McLean pairing who nobody could believe were spies when they were unmasked, Guy Burgess because he was such a buffoon and Mclean because he was seen as such a gentleman, and a good mixer.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set in the aftermath of that world when everyone is aware that there could be a fifth man or a high-placed mole in the circus jargon. The more you read the book the more it revels its layers and shows you peoples motivations.
The happenings in the books mirror the happenings in the real world, the unmasking of Anthony Blunt etc.
There are three books making a wonderful trilogy and it what I return to again and again. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
As it turned out, Leipzig had too much to offer to finish all three but I did read 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', and my what a thrill that was! George Smiley is definitely not the kind of spy or secret agent I expected (which is probably because the only two others I could name would be James Bond and Jason Bourne), but physically unimpressive and unprepossessing as he may be, he rapidly established himself in my mind as the yardstick against which all other spies must measure up. True enough, there is some physical action in 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy', but the focus of the book is on the battle of minds between Smiley and the mole hiding at the centre of British Intelligence, and Smiley's formidable challenge there: how do you spy on the spies?
Rarely have I been so drawn into a story from page one, with 'old Major Dover dropping dead at the Taunton races'. The language and dialogues are superb, each character is exquisitely drawn, and Le Carré instills much of the book with a sense of impending disaster keeping one reading on and on. Great book, I should have read this years ago!
John Le Carre's writing is taut and gripping. You are soon enmeshed in the very dark world of the British secret service (The Circus as you will very soon be thinking of it as.)
This book is a "must read". For me this and its sequel Smiley's People have never been bettered.