Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré (1974) - mole hunting in Britain

My parents bought this book when it first came out and I remember being intrigued by the title, especially the spy part. Of course James Bond was the quintessential spy in the early '70s, especially for young boys. When I did finally get around to reading this book in the later '70s I understood that this was no James Bond caper - pretty much the opposite in fact. John le Carré created an anti-James Bond spy hero in George Smiley, who on the surface is a curmudgeonly, out-of-shape old man. As this book begins he is in forced retirement, but is persuaded to return to the fold to hunt for a Soviet mole inside the "Circus"- the British secret intelligence service and his former empoyer. Smiley is one the most perfectly realized characters I have ever had the pleasure to come across in fiction, spy genre or otherwise. le Carré is brilliant in his descriptions of Smiley's various taciturn ways, his mannerisms and lack thereof, his quiet observation and patience - mostly his steely intelligence as he closes in on his quarry. Not much for action fans here, it's a more cerebral ride, and thoroughly engaging. I won't get into plot specifics as any details are better uncovered in the reading as layers are peeled back slowly to reveal the awful truth. A truly exceptional novel and a great, great protagonist in George Smiley.

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