Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (The Karla Trilogy #1)

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  29,416 ratings  ·  2,127 reviews
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,...more
349 pages
Published (first published 1974)
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Jason
A few months ago a stylish looking British adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was released in theaters and I was intrigued. But I knew better. Movies are for smart people. If I had to constantly nudge my wife during Superbad to ask questions like, “so who is that guy again?” and “wait, is she the same one from before?” then I had to admit that seeing this movie would only serve to make me feel very confused and intellectually inadequate. I do better with books. Books explain things. Book...more
Jeffrey Keeten
"The suspicious black car did not follow me home. How am I supposed to maintain this level of paranoia with this level of incompetence?" Tweet from jkeeten's defunct Twitter account.

"I don't smoke but I always travel w/ a Zippo lighter in case I have to light a beautiful woman's cigarette or the wick of a Molotov cocktail." Another tweet from jkeeten's defunct Twitter account.

The British Secret Service, resembling a corporation that has suffered sagging profits, has reshuffled key players, ouste...more
Manny
I'm one of many people who think that Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the greatest espionage novel of all time. Let's take the obvious things first. Unlike most examples of this genre, it's extremely well-written. Also, having worked in espionage himself, le Carré is able to get the atmosphere right. It feels 100% authentic, and you see that spying is like most other jobs. The greater part of it is routine and office intrigues, though every now and then something unexpected and dramatic happens....more
Patrick Brown
Aug 11, 2008 Patrick Brown rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Patrick by: Robert Newman and Marshall Presnick
Shelves: spy-thrillers
I had read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold on my honeymoon in Paris, and I remember liking it, but not rushing out to get more Le Carre. Well, now I'm going to rush out to get more Le Carre.

I didn't give this five stars because it was a touch slow to get moving. I think if I'd just been able to focus a little more, I would've been into the plot faster. Le Carre has this ability to make every character a mystery. So much is withheld from the reader, and yet the characters are fascinating. I t...more
Willow
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not my type of book. I never read stuff like this. I don’t like contemporaries (unless there are vampires or witches in them) and I rarely read mysteries. I loved the movie though (I’m a big Gary Oldman fan) so I thought what the heck, I’ll read the book. After all, it’s not really a contemporary…at least not anymore. The action takes place during the early seventies. So here I am.

First off, I have to say Le Carre writes with amazing detail. These guys aren’t like...more
Ryan
Veterans of Britain's secret service refer to MI6 as the Circus, and when Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy opens, our hero George Smiley has been kicked out of the show. So Smiley has not retired with dignity, but rather has been ousted for backing a jaded horse. The head of Circus, a spy so skilled that people only knew him as "Control," went out in a blaze of tragedy, and Smiley's career was one of the casualties.

Unknown to most, Control was trying to find a mole. He failed and the Circus has been re...more
Derrick
Oft billed as the "anti-Ian Flemming," John Le Carre inverts all the typical trappings of the spy-thriller: in place of the handsome, gadget-happy g-man we're given a sacked, middle-aged cuckold whose attention to detail and intellectual virtuosity quietly derail Moscow Central's invisible vise-grip on the Circus.

Note that "quietly," as the tension here is all cerebral, the violence and spectacle off-stage, and the stakes themselves, though no less dire than the fate of the world, are entirely i...more
El
Apparently I'm turning into a really shitty reader.

This is the first Le Carré I've read, and whatever, I think I expected a little more James Bond than, well, George Smiley - a name which every single time was mentioned (which was quite a lot) always made me think of his muppet-brother, Guy Smiley. Picturing George as a human and not a muppet made the reading more difficult than I had intended. (See first note about becoming a really shitty reader.)

And in my current mood I wanted some violence....more
Trevor
I caught up with a friend a few weeks ago when I had just started this book and he said he had given up on the film and drifted off to sleep as he had completely lost track of what was going on and in the end couldn’t care either way anyway. That was exactly the experience I was having with the book and had thought it was just me. But then, all of a sudden, at about the middle of this one (I imagine just as George was dozing off in the film), the pieces of the jigsaw start dropping into place an...more
Kate
First off, I understand that Tinker Tailor is a spy novel, and that Le Carre obviously wanted to achieve a certain effect appropriate to the genre, and to keep everything "realistic." But it was jargon-y to a fault, and in keeping its audience as in the dark as its protagonist, it succeeded too well.

Furthermore, its characters never spoke the way they were described - it was always "'could you pass the tea please, that's a boy,' he shouted furiously." And about 95% of the book is written in past...more
gaby
And thus began what would be a year and a half-long obsession with George Smiley and his British Circus. Having now read every last book in which Smiley is even cursorily mentioned, I can say steadfast that this is Le Carre's masterwork. It is a warm, immersive book. It draws you in like a warm sweater, and keeps you suspended weightless and happy in its alternate world. I literally read this book three times in a row before moving on to the next in the trilogy (The Honourable Schoolboy). It is...more
Alice X. Zhang
Picked this up because of the recent film, which was already grim and complicated enough to require multiple viewings. The book is even more complex (actually makes the movie seem over-simplified, which I didn't think was possible)... le Carre is definitely a master of his genre. Although Tinker Tailor's world is fictional it somehow manages to be almost overly, suffocatingly realistic, an espionage tale that has absolutely none of the flashy glamour that characterizes a lot of modern spy storie...more
Thomas Briggs
Not for the cursory reader, this book presents an enigmatic quest by that least dashing of protagonists, Mr. George Smiley, late of the Circus (MI6). The reader is dropped, as in other LeCarre novels, into the middle of the story, and must piece together the story from Smiley’s own memories and those of others who, in one way or another have been exiled from their life’s work . Gradually, Smiley finds that the promotion of an incompetent to the leadership of the service, and the banishment of th...more
Michael
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is my second John le Carré novel, the first being The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (which I may need to read again). I remember never really feeling the need to go out and read some more, which would have been a huge mistake. My reasoning for reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was mainly came from the need to have the book read before seeing the movie adaption. John le Carré does a great job writing complex spy plots, but sometimes it gets too confusing and makes...more
Chloe
Jul 15, 2009 Chloe rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Graham Greene's The Human Factor
Recommended to Chloe by: Ted Graf
When it comes to the spy novel, John le Carre is the undisputed master. The man can fill a typically unexciting scene, say of a character reading letters, with enough suspense and tension to leave the reader tight-lipped and breathless as they hurriedly flip to the next page. His spies are not the supermen of Hollywood like Bond and Bourne, but instead are unathletic, unassuming people who tend to either resemble washed-up pugilists or sallow-cheeked bank clerks.

Le Carre's George Smiley is the e...more
K
I freely admit that I am not smart enough to appreciate this book.

The whole thing was way too convoluted for me. First I was in one character's head, then another, then back to the first. Then there was a third character who mostly made cameo appearances and was clearly unimportant, but we spend time in his head too. As if that's not confusing enough, different people narrate different parts of the story as master spy George Smiley (highly distracting name, I must say) interviews different playe...more
Kat
It was enjoyable - but what a mess!

Structurally it was a catastrophe for me. It's part of a series, but I went in thinking it was fine reading it on its own, and it is, in a way. Smiley's case isn't linked to any previous novels - but I think some of the backstory that kept popping up here would have come across less confusing had I read any of the other books previously. As it was now it felt unfitting and interrupted in the most frustrating places, which was a downer.

The spy stuff is really go...more
danny
I've read and re-read this probably half a dozen times. Absolutely the finest most textured espionage novel EVER written (including Le Carre's other espionage masterpiece "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold"). Honestly, you need a scorecard to keep the characters and plot line straight. Loosely based on the British spy scandals of the 50s/60s/70s. Too damned good to put down or read once. FYI the BBC television mini-series (starring Sir Alec Guiness) faithfully follows the plot line. Good times t...more
Matt Brady
The best espionage thriller I’ve ever read. One of the greatest living British writers hardly needs me to talk him up, but I truly am in awe of le Carré's skills.

The plot is fairly simple. It’s the early 70’s and George Smiley, after a year of forced retirement, is tasked with uncovering the identity of a Soviet mole that has managed to infiltrate the highest echelons of the British secret service. But the amount of depth and complexity that le Carre manages to add to this story is remarkable, a...more
Anachronist
A quote to give you some idea what you are dealing with:

“'It is the perfect fix: you see that, don't you, Toby, really?' Smiley remarked in a quiet, rather distant way. 'Assuming it is a fix. It makes everyone wrong who's right: Connie Sachs, Jerry Westerby... Jim Prideaux... even Control. Silences the doubters before they've even spoken out... the permutations are infinite, once you've brought off the basic lie. Moscow Centre must be allowed to think she has an important Circus source; Whiteha...more
Feliks
For quite some time, this was one of the most amazing successes in the genre of espionage fiction. It reined supreme. The reading public had never seen anything quite like it. Everyone knew John LeCarre was a spy writer and that he was 'rather good'. Everyone--absolutely everyone--was aware of the landmark, the juggernaut which he had already achieved some years previously: 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold'. No one --I think--expected him to equal that triumph; no one expected him to follow th...more
Jeremiah Genest
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not only le Carre's masterpiece, not only perhaps the greatest spy novel ever written, but it is also a great work of serious fiction. Few works of fiction examine so many types of betrayal: of country, of friends, of lovers, of ideals. In none of the espionage master's other works are so many layers of meaning revealed, all inseparable from a highly entertaining cat-and-mouse adventure yarn. The story of supposedly retired spy George Smiley's efforts to ferret ou...more
Anna
My first - and last - le Carre. It was far too boys-and-their-toys for me and I was completely confused from start to finish. That said, I was strangely hooked and did quite like it, I just don’t think I could put my poor head through another one!

Thanks for holding my hand, Jemidar - sorry for being a big girl's blouse ;-p
Jonfaith
I like George Smiley. Maybe I should note that Smiley looks nothing like Gary Oldman. Maybe I shouldn't think about cinema, the way Operation Testify was shifted from Brno to Budapest. Maybe i should just think about George Smiley. It is probable that I prefer Smiley to the novels of John Le Carre. There is much of the flawed in our protagonist. I like him. Tinker begins with verve. The novel proceeds half concealed. There is a deliberate reticence within the progression: there are glimpses and...more
Jonathan Peto
This is the first John le Carre novel I've ever read and I'm hooked. I was surprised that "the legendary George Smiley" sat around and did so much reading of old files. Furthermore, I was surprised, even shocked, that le Carre chose to tell so much of his story by having characters recount in dialogue events that had already taken place. Obviously, le Carre needs to spend his last years reading books about how to make his writing more immediate. Then again, I'm bored of car chases and needless v...more
Ted
I remember that when I read this (and the other Karla novels) years ago, I ripped through them to the detriment of my understanding of all the twists and turns of the plot. So although I enjoyed them immensely, when I was all finished (and even during the reading) I felt somewhat confused about what story le Carre had actually told.

So a couple years ago I watched (Netflix) the BBC adaptation of the books with Alec Guinness. Again, I enjoyed it no end, but while the 7 hour condensation of the sto...more
Karen
YOU GUYS. How have I never read Le Carre before? I picked this up at ALA because I'd seen that a new film was coming out with Gary Oldman, and I admit, I am base and low, I read literature because it is made into movies with Gary Oldman. I got the gorgeous new Penguin edition which was a pleasure to hold and read. And did I read it. I did.

Le Carre is a real writer. The book has weight and it's serious, it's not messing around. The turns of phrase are delicious and original ("studs" of sweat on a...more
Dan
Oct 10, 2007 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: spy thriller fans
Smiley is as close to being the perfect fictional character as can be. LeCarre' breathes life into him with painstaking attention to detail. Smiley is a complex individual, brilliant and deeply flawed but honorable and admirable. If George were a real human being, I think I'd like to have him as a friend.

This novel is a tour-de-force in writing and a textbook example of the cold war genre but it is also a study in human nature as well. LeCarre' is what I imagine to be an author's author.

If you d...more
Chris
I never had much of a desire to read TTSS. I knew about John Le Carre, and his books were heavy on my parents' bookshelves, but I never really felt moved to read them. Then I saw the preview for the new movie (2011/2012).

It stars Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, John, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, and Tom Hardy.

And you know if it's British it will have all those actors(male and female) that you know, including in this case Owen of the Sheep from The Vicar of Dilby.

As S...more
Bennard
from The Book Hooligan

“It’s the age-old question. Who can spy on the spies?” – Oliver Lacon

During my childhood days, me and my family were avid watchers of James Bond films. From time to time, my father would rent a VHS or a DVD (depending on which actor is portraying James Bond) and we would all sit in front of the television and watch the world of espionage that Ian Fleming (and Hollywood producers) has created with all the slick gadgetry, the action sequences, and the notorious womanizing. It...more
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John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), is an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré has resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than forty years where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.
More about John le Carré...
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold Smiley's People The Russia House The Constant Gardener A Perfect Spy

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“The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal.” 99 likes
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