This is the brief summary from the John le Carre website - Smiley and his people are facing a remarkable challenge: a mole – a Soviet double agent – who has burrowed his way in and up to the highest level of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of their vital operations and their best networks. The mole is one of their own kind. But which one?…
Intriguing, right? I was excited about reading this book because I've always been partial to mystery novels and I had heard really positive things about this one.
The story takes place in England in the early 1970's, during the cold war. After a failed operation the previous year, George Smiley is finding his forced retirement from British Intelligence tedious. When he is approached by a former colleague to assist with a serious covert internal issue, the offer of being useful again is too good to deny, and Smiley agrees to investigate.
I dove right into this book and read the first several chapters, enjoying the story of the new teacher at the boy's school in the English countryside. After that, when the author shifts to discussing the spy aspects of the story, I admit it, I got lost.
There were so many names, with aliases and British Intelligence groups and subgroups and I couldn't keep them all straight. I didn't realize until later that some of these characters were in earlier novels by the same author. Maybe reading them first would have helped clarify and establish them in my mind, but I'm not sure.
I kept on going, gleaning what I could as I moved along and even though I was confused at times and struggling to remember a particular character or group's name or purpose or allegiance, I was able to follow, with Smiley, the complex twists and turns of the story.
Over the years, I have seen quite a few movies about espionage with strong characters like Bond, Hunt, and Bourne. All of them contain witty banter, explosions, car chases, seduction, murder and all around intrigue. John Le Carre has gone a different route with this work. The tension in this novel, though present, is much more understated, as are the main players. The moves of the characters are calculated and intelligent and only occasionally result in an action sequence.
I found out that John Le Carre was himself part of British Intelligence in the 50s and 60s which explains his proficiency with the topic. It does read very true, though at times I almost felt the author was making it harder to understand than it had to be, for no apparent reason.
So this is my advice to those who are considering reading this book. Do it! But set aside enough time to for it because it needs to be read consistently for better retention and understanding. Read it thoughtfully. Pay attention to names, maybe even write them down with their alias and job position. Think, think, think. It is absolutely worth the read, but you'll appreciate the nuances more if you aren't flipping back in the pages thinking, "Who's Gerald again?"
Now I get to have my bonus round! This book has been made into a movie so I'm going to go watch it now. Time to make some popcorn! If you read this book or you have read it, I would love to hear your comments.