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The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carre
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The Honourable Schoolboy (original 1977; edition 2011)

by John Le Carre

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2,614432,289 (3.81)131
Member:suzebutch
Title:The Honourable Schoolboy
Authors:John Le Carre
Info:Penguin Books (2011), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 606 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:fiction, multi-country, laos, vientiane, espionage

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The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré (1977)

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» See also 131 mentions

English (40)  Swedish (1)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  All (43)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
The Honourable Schoolboy is an epic, sprawling mess of a novel that doesn't quite deliver the payoff it promises those willing to invest in its near 700 page length. As in Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People (the other two novels making up the so-called Karla Trilogy, of which this is the second), le Carre narrates the events of the book as a sort of controlled retrospective, deliberately withholding information from the reader until the end. Here, however, the technique starts to grate due to the huge number of characters and sub-plots which le Carre introduces, as well as a staggering amount of backstory coloring events in the present. I appreciate not having a story spelt out for me in clear linear terms as much as the next man, but I found keeping track of everything more than a little overwhelming here.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it. What The Honourable Schoolboy lacks in tightness it makes up for in sheer visceral thrills. This is a roller coaster of a book, and one of the most action packed offerings you're ever likely to get from le Carre. After years of novels set in bleak Cold War Europe the exotic backdrops of Laos, Hong Kong and Cambodia come as something of a welcome change. Le Carre really seems to be having fun here, and in place of jaded Cold Warriors and trench coated defectors we get a suitably motley assortment of drink-sodden ex-pats, glamour seeking whores and crazed dope-running mercenaries. Lots of echoes of Greene, Conrad, even a bit of Fleming. Throw in a multi-millionaire Chinese businessman and his sinister bodyguard and the similarities to a certain Mr Bond become even more apparent. It's still recognizably a le Carre novel, though quite a departure from what he had written up till that point. (subsequent novels would of course show that le Carre was as capable of writing first-rate thrillers as the more slow-burning stuff that first earned him his name)

Ultimately though, there's just far too much going on for even a 700 page novel to really do justice, and while le Carre does his best to tie up all the threads there's an underlying sense of dissatisfaction at the end. Too many characters are whisked on stage only to be whisked off a second later, their job done. Were these merely bland cutouts, ciphers or whatnot it wouldn't be so bad, but they're not, and it's this wonderful detail that informs even the smallest of bit-parters that paradoxically makes the book so frustrating to read. There's a whole world here and its surface has only barely been scraped by the close of things.

Pick it up if you want more vintage le Carre, but don't expect the heady brilliance of his other better known works.

Oh, one more thing. Though nominally a part of the Smily vs Karla trilogy, neither Smiley nor his shadowy nemesis play much of a central role here. In fact, aside from a few token mentions, Karla is almost wholly absent from any of the events in the novel. You could quite conceivably skip this novel (as the TV series did) with minimal impact on the overall story arc present in both Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People. ( )
  StuartNorth | Nov 19, 2016 |
The Honourable Schoolboy is an epic, sprawling mess of a novel that doesn't quite deliver the payoff it promises those willing to invest in its near 700 page length. As in Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People (the other two novels making up the so-called Karla Trilogy, of which this is the second), le Carre narrates the events of the book as a sort of controlled retrospective, deliberately withholding information from the reader until the end. Here, however, the technique starts to grate due to the huge number of characters and sub-plots which le Carre introduces, as well as a staggering amount of backstory coloring events in the present. I appreciate not having a story spelt out for me in clear linear terms as much as the next man, but I found keeping track of everything more than a little overwhelming here.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it. What The Honourable Schoolboy lacks in tightness it makes up for in sheer visceral thrills. This is a roller coaster of a book, and one of the most action packed offerings you're ever likely to get from le Carre. After years of novels set in bleak Cold War Europe the exotic backdrops of Laos, Hong Kong and Cambodia come as something of a welcome change. Le Carre really seems to be having fun here, and in place of jaded Cold Warriors and trench coated defectors we get a suitably motley assortment of drink-sodden ex-pats, glamour seeking whores and crazed dope-running mercenaries. Lots of echoes of Greene, Conrad, even a bit of Fleming. Throw in a multi-millionaire Chinese businessman and his sinister bodyguard and the similarities to a certain Mr Bond become even more apparent. It's still recognizably a le Carre novel, though quite a departure from what he had written up till that point. (subsequent novels would of course show that le Carre was as capable of writing first-rate thrillers as the more slow-burning stuff that first earned him his name)

Ultimately though, there's just far too much going on for even a 700 page novel to really do justice, and while le Carre does his best to tie up all the threads there's an underlying sense of dissatisfaction at the end. Too many characters are whisked on stage only to be whisked off a second later, their job done. Were these merely bland cutouts, ciphers or whatnot it wouldn't be so bad, but they're not, and it's this wonderful detail that informs even the smallest of bit-parters that paradoxically makes the book so frustrating to read. There's a whole world here and its surface has only barely been scraped by the close of things.

Pick it up if you want more vintage le Carre, but don't expect the heady brilliance of his other better known works.

Oh, one more thing. Though nominally a part of the Smily vs Karla trilogy, neither Smiley nor his shadowy nemesis play much of a central role here. In fact, aside from a few token mentions, Karla is almost wholly absent from any of the events in the novel. You could quite conceivably skip this novel (as the TV series did) with minimal impact on the overall story arc present in both Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People. ( )
  StuartNorth | Nov 19, 2016 |
Too many details, the plot is too slow-moving. ( )
  siok | Sep 4, 2016 |
The second in the Karla trilogy, continues the le Carré themes of how hard this life is on agents and the behind the scenes machinations. ( )
  kale.dyer | Aug 2, 2016 |
I'll say my least favorite Le Carre so far (number 5 I believe), but still good. Great talent for description and setting... great at not over-doing written accents... there are points it dragged a bit I thought... It could have been 500 instead of 600 pages and we all would have been fine I think... Still, I just read The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, so I'm a little spoiled... think it will be a bit before I finish the trilogy and read Smiley's People. ( )
  BooksForDinner | Jan 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
A retired missionary and his daughter, a Hong Kong policeman, an Italian orphan, an English schoolmaster, an American narcotics agent, a slovenly Kremlinologist, a mad bodyguard, the quite splendid Craw -- all are burned on the brain of the reader. If they are not marooned in loneliness, their cynicism corrodes or they go blank when there are no explanations, only helicopters. Loneliness, in fact, rather than betrayal, is the leitmotif. It is the leper's bell around their necks. They have only themselves to be true to, and they are no longer sure who they are. Not a page of this book is without intelligence and grace. Not a page fails to suggest that we carry around with us our own built-in heart of darkness.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, John Leonard (Jul 20, 1977)
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
le Carré, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davidson, FrederickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laing, TimIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nousiainen, JussiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, HeddaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, RolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
-W.H. Auden
Dedication
For Jane, who bore the brunt, put with my presence and absence alike, and made it all possible.
First words
Afterwards, in the dusty little corners where London's secret servants drink together, there was argument about where the Dolphin case history should really begin.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Part 1 WINDING THE CLOCK

1. How the Circus Left Town

2. The Great Call

3. Mr. George Smiley’s Horse

4. The Castle Wakes

5. A Walk in the Park

6. The Burning of Frost

7. More About Horses

8. The Barons Confer

9. Craw’s Little Ship

10. Tea and Sympathy

11. Shanghai Express

12. The Resurrection of Ricardo

Part 2 SHAKING THE TREE

13. Lies

14. The Eighth Day

15. Siege Town

16. Friends of Charlie Marshall

17. Ricardo

18. The River Bend

19. Golden Thread

20. Liese’s Lover

21. Nelson

22. Born Again
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743457919, Paperback)

John le Carre's classic novels deftly navigate readers through the intricate shadow worlds of international espionage with unsurpassed skill and knowledge and have earned him -- and his hero, British Secret Service agent George Smiley -- unprecedented worldwide acclaim.

In this classic masterwork, le Carre expands upon his extraordinary vision of a secret world as George Smiley goes on the attack.

In the wake of a demoralizing infiltration by a Soviet double agent, Smiley has been made ringmaster of the Circus (aka the British Secret Service). Determined to restore the organization's health and reputation, and bent on revenge, Smiley thrusts his own handpicked operative into action. Jerry Westerby, "The Honourable Schoolboy," is dispatched to the Far East. A burial ground of French, British, and American colonial cultures, the region is a fabled testing ground of patriotic allegiances?and a new showdown is about to begin.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:51 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

In an attempt to recover from the devastating effects of having uncovered a double agent in a high position in its organization, the British Secret Service carries out an elaborate espionage scheme in the Far East.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 12 descriptions

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