Rating: 5 stars
I really enjoyed reading this. I saw the film with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley, so knew what happened, and yet that didn’t spoil the book for me at all. Le Carré was a craftsman of the English language, and his descriptions of the characters and their actions were a joy to read. There are subtle differences between the book and the film, as well, with added depth from certain characters. It’s a really visual book and definitely worth a read.
Smiley has a lot to deal with. He’s been in retirement, forced back into regular proximity to his wife, whom he knows has been having an affair. Then he’s called back to the Circus to try to uncover a Soviet mole. It all goes back to a mission that went wrong, that left Jim Prideaux on the wrong side of the iron curtain and Smiley without a job.
The main theme of the novel is betrayal. Obviously. It’s about a spy who betrays his country. But it’s also about the betrayal of Prideaux by his closest friend, the betrayal of Smiley by his wife, the betrayal of a young boy whose parents are divorcing so they dump him at a boarding school where Prideaux takes him under his wing.
It’s about the long game, about biding your time to get your revenge. For Smiley in his extended chess game against Soviet counterpart Karla, it’s a really long game that plays out over three books.
It’s about ambition and how that poisons and corrupts a person if they make ambition the most important thing.
It’s a complex story, with many strands to follow and the thrill of unpicking the whodunnit with Smiley. It’s a surprisingly tender story, as well, as we follow Smiley’s personal life and witness the confusion and suspicion among the Circus staff. Smiley’s friendship with Connie is also touching.
It’s an incredible book, the benchmark for espionage novels. Forget Bond and his womanising ways, his gadgets and exotic locations. Le Carré doesn’t need flimflammery like that. Plot and character is everything.