Book: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre
#93 on the 100 novels everyone should read.
What is the story about?
The story is about the British secret service, called the ‘Circus’ in the novel. There seems to be a mole within the spying agency. George Smiley, a retired member of the circus, was called in to sniff out the spy. But the question remains: “Who can spy on the spies?”
All I knew about this book before picking it up was that it is a British spy novel. I was hoping it to be like a James Bond movie. Turns out, it was much better!
Thinking of spies, you usually think of gun totting action in the dark. But this book was filled with intense psychological action instead of physical. True, it was a bit confusing at first with all the characters (at one point I thought JP and control were the same person lol) and there was a lot of industry related jargon that some I still don’t know what they are, but the story line was amazingly written and gripping from beginning to end.
John le Carre is a pseudoname to a man who actually worked in this field (spying or intelligence gathering). Only a person who was on the inside can write a story so realistic. It is not one of those: Oh I am a superhero spy that can jump on buildings and walk through walls. It shows the painstaking work that goes with being a spy, the going through numerous files for days on end, cross referencing and trying to find one discrepency to catch a lie.
** mini spoiler **
The book is generally about espionage, trust, and loyalty. There’s a British mole who sold his country and friends out to the Russians. He tried to explain later that he did so on the grounds of morality and principle. Who’s side are you on in the cold war? Who do you want to win which inevitablly means whose ideals do you want to win and want to live under? This British gentlemen chose the East’s ideals, thus betraying his long time coworkers and friends by feeding the opposition with crucial info and busting all the circus’ missions, and by betraying the man who loved him. Which takes us to the next important theme: love.
George Smiley loved his wife dearly. This was his downfall, as Karla (the head of Russian spies) believed. He ordered his mole to court Ann, Smiley’s wife. He said this will distort his image of the mole if he knew his wife loved him. It will also affect him when he knows that everyone around him knows that his wife is sleeping around with his trusted coworker. And it worked.
Then there is the fatherly love that Guillam had towards the mole. He saw him as his mentor and wanted to be just like him. And lastly, there is JP’s love to the mole. The mole recruited JP at Oxford and their relationship is hinted to be a romantic one. JP had a feeling that his lover was the mole and actually tried to warn him before JP went on the mission that was supposed to reveal the mole’s identity.
At the end, the mole was captured. A day or two before he went to Russia, he was found dead on the grounds next to where he was held. Who killed him? It was never stated in the book .. but you get the feeling that JP killed him.
This brings us to the different reactions people have towards betrayal.
His friends and coworkers were visibly shaken, but left knowing their lives will go on. His superior was angry but accepted responsibility and acted accordingly.
As for the people who were in ‘love’, Guillam was physically angry at his paternal idol. He sprang forward at him to show his anger and disdain. He expalined that moment as being “orphaned”. His ‘illusion’ was shattered and he finally had “grown up”.
Then there was JP, who is thought to have cracked his lovers neck for the ultimate betrayal.
Then there is George Smiley, the level headed man who even Karla vouched for his excellence. Smiley accepted the betrayal and waited for his wife’s return, which may be seen as an act of forgiveness in the face of betrayal.
The “last illusion of the illusionless man” Karla has said about Ann’s worth to George.
Is love an illusion, as Karla describes it? If so, how will you behave faced with betrayal by this illusion?
I think my reaction would be closer to George’s, though i know for sure my love is not an ‘illusion’.
———————————————- Next Book —————————————–
My next book is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Goodreads says the book “is a wickedly funny portrait of British rural life” .. The last book i read that portrays British rural life was the most boring book i ever read in my whole entire life (book review here). Here’s to hoping this one is better..