I finally understand! 4 stars.
The blurb: It is now beyond a doubt that a mole, implanted decades ago by Moscow Centre, has burrowed his way into the highest echelons of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of its most vital operations and its best networks. It is clear that the double agent is one of its own kind. But which one? George Smiley is assigned to identify him. And once identified, the traitor must be destroyed.
If you read my recent review of The Night Manager, you might remember that having seen the recent BBC TV adaptation ruined my experience of the book. Not because of spoilers, but because I enjoyed the TV version a great deal more. Fortunately, I had the opposite experience with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: having already watched the 2011 film version enhanced my enjoyment of the book.
I’ve seen the 2011 film twice (the one starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Toby Jones… really, if you haven’t seen it, you should!) but, while I remembered who the mole was, I couldn’t have explained to you the complexities of exactly what happened. The book is also rather complex but, being able to visualise the characters as the actors enabled me to keep all the story lines straight. Having seen the film was like going into the book with a primer which helped me understand le Carré’s dense web of intrigue. If I hadn’t seen the film I think I’d have had to take notes as I went through or I would have been lost. And, finally, thanks to the book I now understand exactly what was going on in the film – I’m looking forward to watching it again!
Having now read two of his books, I can see why le Carré is considered a master of the spy novel. His own experience in the intelligence services was clearly invaluable to him when creating stories which are entirely convincing. While James Bond is all flash and glamour – what we’d all like to believe espionage is like – le Carré’s stories give us a glimpse into what spying was really like during and post the Cold War: ordinary men moving in the shadows of a dark and grimy world, living with paranoia and doing a lot of hard work often to get nowhere.
Overall: if you like a spy story which requires you to think, this is one for you. And if you’ve already seen any of the screen adaptations, don’t let that put you off reading the book: those celluloid versions will probably help you get more out of the original text.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul