Perry Whitford's Reviews > Smiley's People

Smiley's People by John le Carré
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's review
Dec 02, 2011

it was amazing
Recommended for: Spy fans and historians both.
Read from November 29 to 30, 2011 , read count: 1

Despite the title, its Smiley himself that is very much centre stage in this last installment of a masterful trilogy. The pudgy, anonymous super spy is wiping his glasses and signaling his meekness and obsession on virtually every page here.

Beware though, because like Ali, he floats like a (somewhat portly) butterfly and stings like a bee.

Through disreputable East European agents the (once again) retired Smiley spots an opportunity to close his account with Karla, but he has no brief and so must work outside of the British institutions that have defined and restrained him throughout his career.

Smiley is a wonderfully simple character, a Poirot without the vanities, a Holmes without the excesses, and no where does Le Carre clarify that more concertedly than here, giving us Smiley the strategist, the field man, the interrogator, the cuckold - and the spy catcher supreme.

Was it really like this, the Cold War? Le Carre's version is so much more prosaic yet infinitely more interesting than Fleming's flat, fantasist nonsense. By the late 1970s the Russians are still there, it's the British that no longer were; after the loss of the empire we were set out to pasture internationally, much as Smiley was by the Circus.

At least Smiley could manage one last fling.

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