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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le…

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (original 1974; edition 1974)

by John Le Carre

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,333None1,135 (4.02)304
Title:Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Authors:John Le Carre
Info:Alfred A. Knopf (1974), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 355 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:thrillers, espionage

Work details

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré (1974)

1001 (31) 1001 books (25) 20th century (59) British (65) British literature (31) Cold War (173) crime (29) ebook (24) England (66) English (29) espionage (373) fiction (690) Folio Society (32) George Smiley (54) literature (29) mystery (152) novel (98) own (22) read (66) series (24) smiley (36) spy (281) spy fiction (40) spy novel (28) spy thriller (28) suspense (53) thriller (220) to-read (73) UK (23) unread (21)
  1. 20
    The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré (longway)
  2. 00
    The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (tandah)
    tandah: A different era, but similar pacing and sense of foreboding.
  3. 00
    Declare by Tim Powers (LamontCranston)
  4. 11
    The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: More perfect atmosphere.
  5. 11
    Game, Set & Match by Len Deighton (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Another great trilogy.
  6. 11
    The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Setting the oeuvre.
  7. 12
    The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (wvlibrarydude)
  8. 18
    Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy (Hedgepeth)
    Hedgepeth: Red Rabbit is any early case in Jack Ryans career that is not as action driven as some of the other novels. It moves a little faster than Tinker, Tailor but should still appeal to those who appreciate a more methodical pace.

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Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
I read this once about 25 years ago, but I'd forgotten all but the opening bit with the caravan. I kind of wish the entire book were as vivid and compelling as the early parts with Jim at the academy. I lost track of characters and settings, but I really liked Jim, George, and Connie. Unfortunately, too many of the other characters blurred together. I appreciated the non-judgy queer subplot and the relatively well-drawn female characters. There were just too damn few women, full stop, and especially too few women with any real power. It makes me want to see a reverse-gender remake of the film. ( )
  sageness | Feb 7, 2014 |
Super good, possibly deserving of five stars.

Smiley is an awesome character, the story is gripping, and the writing is really good in a very unshowy way. Aces all around. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
This is the best of the Le Carre spy novels up to this point (chronologically reading them all).

An intricate tale of the heart of the London secret service, as it deals with its competitor, Moscow Centre, run by the infamous Karla. ( )
  br77rino | Jan 3, 2014 |
Actually, it is that good--very addictive, well written, thoughtful, willing to let you do some of the work rather than laying everything out there for its readers, and a very nice summary of what it must have been like to live the Cold War intellectually (i.e., everybody loses all the time). ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was my next stop in my (mostly) chronological tour of the works of John Le Carré; and it is interesting to note that he followed what very many consider his worst novel with what most consider one of his best (although that distinction usually goes not so much to this novel in and of itself as to the “Karla Triloy” of which it is the first volume).

This novel is structured like a jigsaw puzzle. While it is a well-worn simile to compare a mystery novel to a puzzle, it rarely was so literally true as in the case of Le Carré’s novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - the narrative here does not so much develop as a linear plot, but rather consists of bits and pieces of similar size but various shapes that at first sight seem to have no connection to each other and not to make much sense on their own, but when placed together in the right pattern by an expert hand suddenly cohere and form a bigger picture. That expert hand (and it is very expert hand) is not that of the reader, however – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does not just shake out the unsorted pieces in front of the reader and leaves it for them to sort them out (which would have resulted in a formally much more radical novel – one like George Perec’s La Vie – Mode d’Emploi, for example) but has them all put in place by the narrator – reading Le Carré’s novel, then, is not so much like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, but like watching someone else do it.

Which does sound rather boring, and probably would have been in the hands of a lesser writer than Le Carré, but he pulls it off masterfully. There is not really any forward momentum to this novel, there is nothing really happening except people sitting around, drinking tea, or taking the occasional walk, while reminiscing or having talks over the current state of the Secret Service, but it still manages to grab the reader and to not let go until the end. The story is told in isolated pieces that at first do not seem to connect at all – another fitting image beside a jigsaw puzzle might be those complicated patterns from domino stones that are set up in a long and painstaking process, to be then set in motion by the tipping over of a single stone. Maybe this simile explains better while in spite of everything Tinker Tailor Sailor Spy is a compulsive page-turner, even if one has (like me) watched the BBC TV serial a long time back and still remembers who the mole is. The real tension and excitement in this novel comes not so much from the Whodunnit-like mystery, but from watching Le Carré build his extremely complex and incredibly fragile-seeming structure, from holding one’s breath for fear of disturbing it and half expecting it to come tumbling down any paragraph. It’s not unlike watching a juggler, watching his hands, watching oranges circle through the air, involuntarily sucking in one’s breath when one seems to slip his grasp, then exhaling with a relieved sigh when it doesn’t and he catches it at the last possible moment.

As impressive as Le Carré’s techinal accomplishment here is, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not artistry for its own sake – as always with Le Carré’s novels, this one, too, is driven by a strong moral and political impetus. The world that Le Carré describes here, the world of Circus and Centre, of espionage and counter-intelligence, of scalphunters, lamplighters and moles, might border on the one we inhabit, but it also is detached from it, and the two exist parallel to each other without really touching. But while the shady world of international espionage might at first appear like some exotic fantasy world, the farther the novel progresses, the more pieces Le Carré adds to the jigsaw puzzle, the clearer it becomes that the resulting picture bears an uncanny resemblance to our own world – here is class structure, and here is the exclusion of outsiders, here is the ruthlessness of the poeple in power and the powerlessness of the people at the bottom of the pecking order, here is the pretense to be in the moral right while employing decidedly unethical means to reach one’s ends. In the end, it adds up to an only slightly distorted replica of our familiar world of economy and politics, and when the final piece is in place, the reader is left looking at a picture that is all too familiar.
1 vote Larou | Dec 23, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
10 of the Greatest Cold War Spy Novels
“Like Fleming, Le Carré (real name: David John Moore Cornwall) worked for British intelligence. But where Fleming used his WW 2 experiences as a springboard for fantasy, Le Carre turned his Cold War service into grimly realistic novels. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963) trumped Deighton as a response to James Bond’s glamourous world of espionage, and he continues to turn out fine work to this day. Tinker charts the search for a Soviet mole in the upper echelons of British intelligence, providing Le Carré’s signature character – the low-key professional George Smiley – with a late-in-the-game chance to reclaim his standing in the Circus (MI6), made bittersweet by betrayal. A fine BBC serialization in 1974 was followed by an equally well-received feature-film version in 2011.”
Karla is finally lured across a Berlin bridge and into the West. But, again, what figure is cut by the evil mastermind when he appears? “He wore a grimy shirt and a black tie: he looked like a poor man going to the funeral of a friend.” Le Carré has never written a better sentence, one so impatient of ideology and so attentive to what he, following W. H. Auden, describes plainly as “the human situation.” The television series of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” has lost none of its grip, and the new film will recruit new friends to the cause; but if we seek George Smiley and his people, with their full complement of terrors, illusions, and shames, we should follow the example of the ever-retiring Smiley, and go back to our books. That’s the truth
added by John_Vaughan | editNew Yorker, Anthony Lane (Dec 14, 2011)
The power of the novel is that le Carré transfigured espionage – its techniques, failures and deceptions – into a rich metaphor combining national decay, the disintegration of certainties with advancing age, the impossibility of knowing another human being's mind, the fragility of all trust and loyalty.
added by thorold | editThe Observer, Neal Ascherson (Sep 11, 2011)
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is fluently written; it is full of vivid character sketches of secret agents and bureaucrats from all levels of British society , and the dialogue catches their voices well. The social and physical details of English life and the day to day activities of the intelligence service at home and abroad are convincing. Unlike many writers Le Carré is at his best showing men hard at work; he is fascinated by the office politics of the agency since the war.
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Richard Locke (Jul 20, 1974)

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John le Carréprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davidson, FrederickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greenburger, FrancescoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jayston, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, HeddaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, RolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woolfitt, AdamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743457900, 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.

A modern masterpiece in which le Carre expertly creates a total vision of a secret world, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" begins George Smiley's chess match of wills and wits with Karla, his Soviet counterpart.

It is now beyond 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:42 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

British agent George Smiley hunts for a mole in the Secret Service and begins his epic game of international chess with his Soviet counterpart, an agent named Karla.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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