Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré

I saw the movie when it was in the cinemas and I remember I liked it, despite thinking at the same time it was a bit boring. I remember it was extremely well acted and I liked the way it was shot a lot, a lot of the scenes stayed with me. Probably not long after I bought the book and since then it lingered on my Kindle, as they recently tend to do. I added it to my 2017 TBR, just to see if I’ll like to movie or the book better. What happened is that I loved the book and now want to watch the movie again.

One thing I have to admit is that as I started reading, right away I gave up on reading the characters descriptions, because all the time in my mind’s eye I saw faces of Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Collin Firth and Mark Strong, so I decided to stop fighting it and just go along. I didn’t remember the details of the plot and I’m sure that helped. Usually I’m not a fan of spy fiction, I’ve read some books but was never especially lucky, noting ever blew me away. Untill now.

There is not much happening in the book when you think of it, but the way the characters are developed, the way we discover additional bits an pieces of information all the time, the way the tension is build is just fantastic. What we get very early on is the pervasive lack of trust, the suffocating atmosphere of suspicion that is so strong it borders on paranoia and we never know if it is justified or not. Quoting Catch-22: ‘Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.’. The story is relatively simple when you think of it, but it’s not the story that ultimately matters, it’s the characters and how the story also shapes them.

It’s the middle of Cold War, everyone spies on everyone and suddenly a retired spy, George Smiley, is asked to investigate a possibility of a mole in British Secret Intelligence Service aka the Circus (because of the headquarters being based at Cambridge Circus, but I think given the circumstances it may also be a good description of the state of the institution). Smiley has to face a lot of his own painful memories, but he also forces everyone around him to go back to the most difficult moments in their lives, when they had to face betrayal. I was surprised how humanly le Carré portrayed the spies (until I remembered he worked for SIS), they are not superheroes, they have flaws and they have strengths, they all definitely have past that shapes their future. I won’t write anything more not to spoil your fun.

It was a fantastic book about how life in constant suspicion eats away at people’s soul and their ability to trust anyone, but also about the big picture of the Cold War times in Britain and in Europe, about a time when lack of trust was so extremely common on individual and national level. A fascinating and very atmospheric read, I do recommend it even if spy fiction is not your thing.

Have you read any other Le Carré’s books? Have you read any outstanding spy fiction?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

8 thoughts on “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré

  1. Deepika Ramesh

    I haven’t read a lot of spy fiction, Jo, but I could relate to your point in read a book after watching the movie. I read ‘Fight Club’ after watching the movie and it was hard for me to stop thinking about Pitt and Norton. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve only read one Le Carre, A Perfect Spy, and similar to you with TTSS I thought it was about a lot more than spying. It was more about what damaged people are best suited to being spies! I don’t really read spy fiction but I would be interested to read this.


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