Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I didn't understand half of what I just read, and yet I loved it all the same!
In John le Carré's (real name David Cornwell) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a British intelligence service known as the Circus has been compromised by a mole, a supposed Soviet double agent. Former agent George Smiley is called back from retirement to ferret him out.
This is more of a psychological suspense novel than an action-filled James Bond spy thriller. Smiley is getting up there in years and though he's conversant with a handgun, he's not about to go galavanting about blasting up the countryside. The whole novel is much more sedate than you might expect when you think of "spy thriller". And yet in ways, this book is undeniably thrilling!
Here, I think this passage from Wikipedia explains it better:
Most of Cornwell's novels are spy stories set during the Cold War (1945–91) and feature Circus agents as unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological more than physical drama. Cornwell's books emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence. Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible.
When you read a book like this, you get the distinct impression that the author has lived this life. Frankly, it was quite clear to me that John le Carré worked in the secret service. You can't whip out that kind of jargon and insight with only a casual acquaintance with the topic. I've read a few spy novels before and this makes them look childish in comparison.
The writing itself is topnotch. The character crafting, the stage setting, and the nuance of plot all come off so seamlessly. If there was a little more action, it wouldn't go amiss, but lack of action aside, Le Carré pens books that are an absolute pleasure to read.
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