Idgiepug’s #CBR4 Review #12: The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carre
So I guess I like spy novels now. I blame Gary Oldman, who made me fall in love with George Smiley in a way I never fell for any of the James Bonds. I guess I prefer pudgy intellectuals to swashbuckling lady killers in both real life and spy stories.
The Honourable Schoolboy picks up where Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy left off; George Smiley has taken over the Circus after the ouster of the mole, but that very ouster has led to a literal and figurative gutting of the Circus. People have been fired or demoted, and the walls and light fixtures of the building have been torn apart in the search for bugs left by the Russians. In order to revive the Circus, Smiley calls on Peter Guilliam, who assisted him in the search for the mole; Connie Sachs, the expert on Russia who was forced to retire by the previous head of the Circus; and Doc di Salis, an expert on China. Together, digging through records, they find an odd story about a large sum of money being diverted into a fund in Hong Kong. They find Jerry Westerby, a sometime Circus agent who’s been living quietly in Italy, where the locals call him “The Honourable Schoolboy,” and press him back into service. He’s to investigate a Hong Kong bigwig named Drake Ko and trace his connection to this mystery fund. In the process he, of course, falls for Ko’s pretty British girlfriend, Lizzie Worth. In a fit of love (or lust) Westerby goes a bit rogue, putting himself, Lizzie, and Smiley all at risk in different ways.
The story was a bit convoluted at times, and I found it harder to follow than Tinker, Tailor. I also got a bit fed up with Jerry Westerby and found myself zipping through his sections to get back to Smiley’s parts, which may have contributed to the difficulties I had with understanding the story. My final complaint was with the women in the story. Connie Sachs is brilliant and funny, but Le Carre frequently references her hefty weight. Lizzie Worth is kind of an idiot, but she’s pretty, so everyone’s falling all over her, while Connie’s left stroking her mangy dog alone. Smiley’s wife Anne is also beautiful but is still sleeping around. Peter Guilliam falls for a fellow agent, who seems to show some promise, but she’s such a minor character that we don’t get a good grasp of her character. I suppose the spy world of the time was a bit of a boys’ club, but it would be nice to have a fully fleshed-out female character who isn’t lonely, stupid, or a cheater. I’m being a bit harsher here than I mean to be; I really did enjoy the novel. Le Carre has a nice writing style, and he touches on some interesting issues here, including the Vietnam War and British colonialism. I’ll probably seek out more of his novels in the future.