idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #8: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
As a general rule, I try to read books before I see their film adaptations, but I broke that rule recently to watch Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I enjoyed it in the theater, and it stuck with me. I found myself wondering about it days afterward, so I decided to read the novel after all. It was engrossing and enjoyable to read, and I think I’ve found one of those rare film-novel combinations in which each one enhances the story rather than “ruining” it.
The story centers on George Smiley, a former British intelligence agent. After years of dedication to the service and to his adulterous wife Ann, Smiley finds himself without either. He’s been forced out of the agency, and Ann has left him, apparently for good this time. At the end of a very unsatisfying day of retirement and bachelorhood, Smiley comes home to find one of his former co-workers, Peter Guillam, has broken into his house and is there to collect him for a meeting with a government official. This official, Oliver Lacon, recruits Smiley to do an extra-secret job for the government; he’s going to spy on the spies to find out if someone in the upper echelons of the intelligence agency is, in fact, a mole for the Russians. With Guillam working on the inside and Smiley on the outside, the pair attempts to nail down the identity of the supposed mole. In the course of their investigations, they discover that Smiley’s former boss, who was forced out of the agency along with Smiley, had also been hunting the mole before his ouster. Now dead, the boss had narrowed the suspect list down to five men, including Smiley, and he gave each one a nickname based on an old nursery rhyme: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poorman, and Beggarman. Through a series of interviews with former agents and old-fashioned detective work, Smiley finally uncovers the truth, and it’s a bit more complicated that anyone realized.
I’m not usually a fan of spy novels or detective stories, and I don’t like to start a series of books in the middle, but I was taken with this one. I don’t know if it would have been as easy for me to understand the novel without having seen the movie first, but the book is well-paced and the characters are interesting. It was also fun to see how the writers adapted the story for the screen, and I like that they told the story without slavish attention to details that might otherwise have bogged down the film version. As I said earlier, I think the two versions of the story enhance each other, but I might have felt differently if I had loved the novel before seeing the film. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I became a bit obsessed with George Smiley, and once I make my way through the stack of books I have waiting for me (and the even larger stacks of student papers I have to grade) I plan to read more of Le Carre’s novels.