Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “John Le Carre”

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.

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.

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