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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A George Smiley Novel Paperback – June 7, 2011
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“The premier spy novelist of his time. Perhaps of all time.”—Time
“A rattling good novel.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“John le Carré is the great master of the spy story…the constant flow of emotion lifts him not only above all modern suspense novelists, but above most novelists now practicing.”—Financial Times
“Stunning.”—Wall Street Journal
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author John le Carré 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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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.
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.
It is, perhaps, the antithesis of James Bond, as there is little flash, style, or ostentatious behavior, as the author uses the patience and, in some cases, the weaknesses of the characters to tell the story that was confined almost exclusively to the shadows. The story is gripping because it is plausible.
Smiley's world extends from this book, and I can't wait to begin the next one.