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Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy by John Le…
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Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy (original 1974; edition 1974)

by John Le Carré

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,2411761,030 (4.04)424
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.
Member:astahura
Title:Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy
Authors:John Le Carré
Info:London [etc.] : Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.
Collections:Your library, Letters
Rating:**
Tags:Rogues, $E11

Work details

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

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» See also 424 mentions

English (165)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  German (1)  Swedish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (176)
Showing 1-5 of 165 (next | show all)
While perhaps not as actin orientated as most people have come to expect from a spy novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, is nonetheless a gripping read. Smiley himself left me cold, but that didn't matter because Jim Prideaux is the heart of the story. While the betrayal of a country may seem too alien for us to empathise with, the personal betrayal Jim suffers is enough to inspire a burning need to know who the mole is. The only complaint I have is that at times it can become confusing with the numerous names and unfamiliar terminology that Le Carre uses. ( )
  Fardo | Oct 15, 2019 |
I had to read this at least twice to understand all the twists and turns. A great spy novel turned into a classic BBC series starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley ( )
  AnthonyGLast | Oct 14, 2019 |
This is the first book of this type I have read - and I enjoyed it. Between the world of espionage, who the mole is, and russion operatives, its an incredible book.

As for the characters - each was their own person. A few times, characters were dramatized too much, such as as Connie. Other times it was hard to figure out what was happening, but thats okay, neither does George Smiley. A reader has a window into the chaos that is data analysis, and its not easy. A great book, well written, and a very enjoyable read. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Sep 28, 2019 |
This is one of the great spy novels, and is clearly modelled in no small degree on the story of Kim Philby, the 'Third Man' who not only tipped off Burgess and MacLean in 1951 and allowed them to escape before they could be arrested for leaking secrets, but then escaped himself in 1963 after his guilt had eventually been uncovered. Set at the height of the Cold War it recounts the search for a 'mole' within the upper echelons of the Secret Service.

George Smiley, 'an old spy in a hurry' is brought back from the involuntary retirement into which he had been pushed just a couple of years previously. He reluctantly accedes to be commissioned to investigate an allegation that one of the four officers at the head of MI6 might in fact be a long-established Russian spy. 'It's the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies? Who can smell out the fox without running with him?' This is the question put to Smiley by Oliver Lacon, 'Whitehall's head prefect', after he has explained the evidence that has finally convinced him of the existence of the mole. There is a poignant undercurrent to all of this because Smiley’s enforced retirement had come about because he had raised the same concerns about the possibility of a highly placed mole, but his claims had been dismissed as a manifestation of sour grapes after his own position had suffered following a restructuring of the Intelligence Service.

There are four suspects: Percy Alleline ('Tinker'), dour Scotsman and acting Chief of Service; Bill Haydon ('Tailor'), flamboyant wunderkind, alternately mentor and hero to the Service's younger generation of aspirants; Roy Bland ('Soldier'), would-be academic and ultimate self-seeking pragmatist; and Toby Esterhase ('Poor Man'), opportunistic Hungarian émigré desperate for promotion and convinced that no-one shows him the respect he deserves. Control, the former head of the Service, had managed to reach this far before, acting entirely on his own, but as his health rapidly failed he embarked upon one wild last throw to flush the traitor out. This was the venture subsequently known as 'Operation Testify', alluded to throughout the book though the full extent of its disastrous nature is only revealed near the end.

The reverberations of Operation Testify echo through the Service for years afterwards. Control is forced into retirement and dies almost immediately. In the reorganisation that followed Smiley was also pushed into retirement. Alleline takes over, with Haydon as his deputy, and the new world order seems to have begun. On the other side of the world, however, Ricki Tarr, a rough and ready member of the Service, accustomed to infiltrating gun-running gangs, meets Irina, a Russian agent in Hong Kong. Their affair is hectic and hasty, and she tells Tarr of the greatest secret that she knows: there is a Soviet mole, with the code name 'Gerald' in the highest echelons of the Service. She does not know many details but does have enough facts to convince Tarr that she is telling the truth. He passes the information back to the Circus, but receives no reply. However, Irina is almost immediately rounded up by her Soviet minders and shipped back to Russia. Tarr goes underground and eventually makes his way back to London where he contacts Guillam, and through him Lacon. The witch hunt has begun. Smiley has to track them down through the paperwork, secured through deft chicanery by his one ally on the inside, the redoubtable Peter Guillam whose own career was truncated.

Le Carre offers none of the glamour and fantasy world cavortings of Ian Fleming's 'James Bond' novels. Smiley and his associates have to grapple with the shabby and entirely mundane underbelly of the espionage world, working back through the files, and eye-witness accounts of previous failed operations. There is absolutely no glamour or sparkle about the story at all, though that serves to boost its compelling nature. It is also immensely redolent of the early 1970s. All the way through the book characters are freezing cold, huddled in their coats and struggling to generate any warmth at all. The enigmas and moral dilemmas, though, remain timeless.

This is a fascinating and engaging novel, that improves with every re-reading. The excellent BBC television series captured the feel of the novel very well, although the book (as is so often the case) is even better. Don't bother with the Gary Oldman film though - I haven't seen such a dreadful screen adaptation of an excellent book since they butchered [The Bonfire of the Vanities]. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Sep 6, 2019 |
Le Carre's masterpiece of suspense, building so gradually you hardly notice it until you realise you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting breathlessly for .... well, for what exactly? Certainly not action, something which seems anathema to Le Carre. All you can hope for is resolution, and even that is not often explicit. Great stuff. August 2019 ( )
  alanca | Aug 19, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 165 (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 (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
le Carré, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davidson, FrederickNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Greenburger, FrancescoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jayston, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laing, TimIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, HeddaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soellner, RolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woolfitt, AdamCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Tinker,
Tailor,
Soldier,
Sailor,
Rich Man,
Poor Man,
Beggarman,
Thief.

Small children's fortune-telling rhyme used when counting cherry stones, waistcoat buttons, daisy petals, or the seeds of the Timothy grass.
- from the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes
Dedication
For James Bennett and Dusty Rhodes in memory.
First words
The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn't dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood's at all.
Quotations
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Haiku summary
Is he friend or foe?
Spying is no nurs'ry rhyme
Control suspects all
(pickupsticks)
Smiley and Control
Team up to capture the mole
Deep must they burrow
(pickupsticks)

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