Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Such an utterly disappointing book to me. I read doggedly on, until the bitter end, in the hopes that surely I would see what made this book a best seller. A spy novel extraordinaire. Any reason whatsoever to turn it into a film.

Alas, I find practically nothing.
Is the story of finding a Russian mole within British intelligence told with any clarity whatsoever for those who are not spies? Does it follow any logical, sequential order? No, Le Carre fills it with jargon best known to those involved with espionage, and flashbacks which made my head swim.

I wasn’t even comforted by caring about any of the characters. George Smiley, to be sure, is the most likable of them all. We see his weaknesses, briefly, underneath a stoic and calm exterior. But, we don’t come to know him. I, for one, cared little about his disappointment when he discovered which  tinker, tailor, soldier or spy was the mole set by Karla in the Circus (Secret Intelligence Service).

I was only glad that finally, after numerous attempts since 1974 when this book was first published, I was able to finish it tonight. Hopefully, the film will prove more interesting when it’s released December 9, as Colin Firth plays Bill Haydon. The tailor.

Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to download this book onto my Nook.

Addendum: After having read the book and let it settle for 24 hours, I can now see why it has such popularity. It is not an easy read, not a smooth read, not a linear read. But, it is a read which I can’t forget. I keep thinking over the plot, the slow unraveling in the discovery of the mole, and I can see that the subtle way which le Carre has done this is quite powerful. I regret my earlier disdain to some degree. Perhaps it is due in large part to being used to novels which pound one over the head with their dramatics.

23 thoughts on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

  1. I'd trouble getting into the book too. Gave up after a few chapters. But I look forward to the movie though… yes, mainly because of Colin Firth, albeit just a supporting role. 😉


  2. Phew! I'm not the only one who struggled with the book! I've started it several times in my life, and I was bound and determined to finish it this time. So I did, but at no great joy.

    However, for once the film looks far superior to me (probably, as you say, due to Colin Firth).

    We'll have to talk after we see it, Arti.


  3. You will not find clarity in a good spy novel. Quite the opposite, actually. This is part of the fun for those of us who love them, but it must be very frustrating for everyone else.

    For me, Le Caree is a love/meh author. I either love the book or I go meh.


  4. Certainly not to everyone, Bermudaonion, as it is a best seller after all. But, it didn't work for me. It's not that I didn't understand it; I'd be glad to tell you who the mole is, and all about the Czech incident, and the way that poor George Smiley's wife was an adulterer. It's just that it was so tedious to sort through it. I'm not, after all, adept at espionage nor its concepts. Terms like the 'mothers' (for the secretaries), or 'Control', or 'Circus' had no meaning for me until I could piece them all together into the whole.


  5. Terre Madre, I'm almost reluctant to try something else! I spent all of yesterday laboring through this one, even though I own The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. And something else by Le Carre, too, just not the novels you've read. i gather I should try them and leave the espionage to the experts.


  6. C. B. James, I have to laugh at your first sentence; what did I expect, to understand a spy novel? Well, actually, yes. I adored The Day of The Jackal. I adored The Bourne Identity. But, perhaps those are more novels of assassins than spies.


  7. Have also been considering re-reading this one but I do remember loving it many, many years ago. Sorry it di not work for you but I have faith in the fact that Collin Firth will always work for you. 🙂


  8. Elisabeth, I think I will enjoy the movie not only because of Firth but because of having it flow smoothly. It helps to have background knowledge and context, too! I will definitely try more of Le Carre's work, now that I have sampled this and found it a bit tricky but not at all easy to forget. In fact, I've been dwelling on it all day sad that I was too slow in understanding his style.


  9. Sorry to know that you didn't like this book, Bellezza. But I loved the fact that you called a spade, a spade 🙂 I think the thing about John Le Carre was that his spies were not like James Bond or any of the action heroes – who were the default spies of the '60s and the '70s, but he was a normal guy with imperfections and weaknesses. I also think that Le Carre portrayed the Cold War environment and the fear of that era quite realistically. Can't wait for the movie version of this book to come out. Colin Firth rocks 🙂


  10. This is going to sound crazy but I'm sure as a bibliophile, you and your reads will understand. I think I read this one in the past but am not sure. Your review is bringing back memories of reacting to this work in much the same way you did. I need to check this out from the library and see if it jogs my memory!


  11. Parrish, a comment about Paprika: It's wonderful! I cannot put it down! I'll post on it by the end of the week, I'm sure, with more complete thoughts. How fun that we're reading something by the same author across all these miles.


  12. I read The Constant Gardener some years ago and it is a simply fantastic book. I loved it.

    At the beginning of this year I read The Spy Who Came in with the Cold and it was simply OKay. I have a feeling I'm going to prefer le Carré's stand alone books rather then his Smiley books but I'd still like to continue reading them.


  13. Oh, jumping in on the comment about Paprika – it seems so coincidental and weird that you should be reading that. Well… possibly not considering you run the Japanese Reading challenge but I only picked that book up on a whim a couple of weeks ago. I'd never heard of it it at all before then and now you are reading it (same cover too).

    Looking forward to your review of that. It sounded really interesting in the shop and I loved the cover.


  14. I have never read anything by Le Carre, and this has no appeal to me, but I will definitely plan to rent the movie once it goes to DVD. Love me some Colin Firth. 🙂


  15. I'm so looking forward to the movie! I listed to this on audio and had a hard time following and felt pretty dumb by the end. I think it's one I needed to read in print. Or just watch the movie with such a great cast.
    I loved The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. From what I recall, it has some of those elements you felt were missing in TTSS.


  16. What a really interesting review. Funny thing is I heard quite a lot about this so I sourced out the trailer on the internet and after watching it I still had no idea whatsoever what the story was about!


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