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The Honourable Schoolboy

(The Karla Trilogy #2)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  16,511 ratings  ·  889 reviews
John le Carré'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 Carré expands upon his extraordinary vision of a secret world as George Sm

Paperback, 589 pages
Published October 29th 2002 by Scribner Book Company (first published September 1977)
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Nancy Thormann Jerry Westerby was also kicked out by Bill Haydon and the whole book revolved around him. He was one of the clean ones, as PG puts it.

I thought the op…more
Jerry Westerby was also kicked out by Bill Haydon and the whole book revolved around him. He was one of the clean ones, as PG puts it.

I thought the opium running was over done a bit myself.

What's not clear to me is why Westerby had to go into Laos and Cambodia for such a long time, unless it was part of the shake down plan.(less)
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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"What a man thinks is his own business. What matters is what he does."

This quote seems fairly elementary in substance, and I can’t help thinking how much this seems to reflect the basic expectation of the intelligence agents in this novel. A man or woman is given a set of orders, and those orders should be followed through with no exception. Associations with other human beings and emotions should not come into the equation. They do not belong in the world of espionage. Stopping to question cert
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: xx2018-completed
In the review I wrote for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy I mentioned that it took me a while to accustom myself to the spy jargon as well as many of the British idioms. It gave me a very strange feeling to start reading this episode (# 6 in the George Smiley series) and discover: (1) the British idioms are offset by the fact that the Circus (centre of espionage in London) is balanced, and often explained by the Cousins (their American counterparts, based in Langley, Virginia); and (2) the definiti ...more
Popular opinion has it that this is the weakest of the three Karla novels. I thought it was a masterpiece, and a more ambitious novel than Tinker, Tailor.

It is very different from the last book: suddenly there is this unexpectedly huge scope of Southeast Asia to go alongside the muted meetings in grey London office rooms. I can well understand how some readers might have felt it was two books jammed together, but for me the contrast worked perfectly and I was riveted by how brilliantly Le Carré
I'm a longtime reader of the espionage genre --beginning as just a lad--and although I massively enjoyed all of John LeCarre's earlier works and particularly his George Smiley series--I must call out "The Honourable Schoolboy" for especial recognition.

This penultimate work of that series is really the triumph of LeCarre's career; the point at which he reached the full breadth and scope of his powers. Afterwards--although he enjoyed further achievements--I suggest that he never again eclipses th
E. G.
Oct 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

--The Honourable Schoolboy
Oct 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

― W.H. Auden

“Yet it's not for want of future that I'm here, he thought. It's for want of a present.”
― John le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy


Well sport, this was a messy, sometimes uneven AND occasionally a plodding novel but I absolutely loved every single word of it. This is the second book of le Carré's Karla trilogy. Perhaps, the greatest spy trilogy ever. While more people focus on the first
May 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
- W.H. Auden

What if you devoted your entire life to something because you thought it was the right thing, the good thing, the moral thing, and then you ended your life wondering if you had been completely wrong? It happens to a lot of people, particularly because things shift on us as the years go by and change in ways we do not notice or acknowledge, and because with age comes wisdom, or if not wisdo
May 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
One of the few bright spots is how the author wrote the 1970s colonized Hong Kong, I also enjoy how the author described the international spy network and how those spies work, but all the good things I have to say about this book end here. The characters are rather flat, the plot and the war among spies slow paced and uninteresting. In the end I don't care what might happen to any of those characters. So it's a disappointed 2 stars.
Bill Kerwin

There is a passage more than halfway through The Honorable Schoolboy which discusses the reading material that Jerry Westerby—the “schoolboy” of the title, about to embark for Phnom Penh—has brought with him on the plane.
He read the Jours de France to put some French back into his mind, then remembered Candide and read that. He had brought the book-bag, and in the book-bag he had Conrad. In Phnom Penh he always read Conrad; it tickled him to remind himself he was sitting in the last of the t
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a tough act to follow, but I must admit I was expecting more. At first, I thought that’s exactly what I was getting but then the mind-numbing second third happened and I was lost in a way I never was in Tinker Tailor. I still don’t have a clear understanding of what happened—in the book or with my interest in it.

All I know is that I got sick of reading about Jerry. I got sick of Guillam’s overdone fawning. I got sick of the female characters—including Connie—portraye
Vit Babenco
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John le Carré calls Hong Kong the world capital of espionage of the seventies. There on the invisible battlefields the unseen combats are being fought… But the invisibility doesn’t make the mêlées less cruel. Clandestinity just makes spy battles much more psychologically complex.
“A redhead, which was half-way to whoredom for a start. Not enough breast to nurse a rabbit, and worst of all a fierce eye for arithmetic. They said he found her in the town: whore again. From the first day, she had not
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd wanted to read the George Smiley books since watching the BBC adaptation of 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' back in the 1970s. I also subsequently loved the 2011 film adaptation directed by Tomas Alfredson, which I saw in the cinema, and rewatched recently.

Everything I had heard about the source material suggests joy and wonder would await and, I’m pleased to report, that’s exactly what I have found so far.

I have read the series, up until 'The Honourable Schoolboy', in quick succession…
Bryan Alexander
Nov 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the greatest spy novels I've ever read. It's a powerful, ambitious, satisfying sequel to the very great Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The plot concerns the Circus (British espionage unit) tracking down a Soviet operation in the far East. Smiley rebuilds the shattered agency and hurls it into the fray. Without spoilers I can assert that The Honourable Schoolboy takes place largely in south and southeast Asia, with long stretches back in London, and an ultimate focus on Hong Kong. E
May 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
I love le Carre, and I love the other two books in the Karla Trilogy, but for some reason this one didn't do it for me. I found the writing flat, devoid of le Carre's usual angry incisiveness, and the characters seemed more like wooden dolls than people. Maybe I'll revisit it some day, but let's just say, I'm in no rush.
Bradley West
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, thrillers
After Tinker, Tailor, le Carre's fans waited many years for the follow-up The Honourable Schoolboy. When I first read the book 35 (!) years ago I recall being a little disappointed that the book wasn't more Smiley-centric, but in retrospect le Carre's shift in focus from treachery within the Circus to the exotic East was what the series needed lest it choke on its own incestuous fog.

The Hong Kong of the early 1970s in the book wasn't very different from the Hong Kong I encountered in the early 1
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
The Karla Trilogy is not a true trilogy but a marketing spin and this book proves it in more ways than one.

To start with, this book has little connection with the Karla-Smiley story of Tinker, Tailor. Yes, Karla is mentioned as linked to the spies being chased but with no other role whatsoever. Smiley team is there but more as a sideshow to the juvenile story of a fringe spy falling in crazy love over a single meeting, his Southeast Asian ventures and a complex capture tale where one is never cl
Roman Clodia
These people terrify me but I am one of them

This follows pretty much straight on after Tinker, Tailor... Smiley is trying to re-build the Circus after the gross betrayal of the previous book and uncovers a money trail to Hong Kong. He recruits Jerry Westerby, an 'occasional' spy to go out to investigate not expecting Jerry's own romantic 'schoolboy' values to be his nemesis.

This feels like a book of transitions: Smiley, with that picture of Karla hanging over his desk, isn't quite the man he
Apparently, many people read John Le Carré’s spy novels for a glimpse at what the world of international espionage is really like; in other words, they read them like a kind of journalism about the shady world of Intelligence Services. And there certainly is something to it – we’ve grown used to a more realistic perspective on secret services, but we can still imagine what it must have been like to read a novel like The Spy Who Came In from the Cold for someone whose idea of spy thrillers were I ...more
Jack Horan
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Bit daunted by how long this was as Le Carre's books can be v confusing, but this is class, couldn't put it down. Also fair play to him for making the head of British intelligence a sympathetic character, because these are all badmen.
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spies
A John le Carre novel set in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia? Yes, please!

This is the second volume in the Karla trilogy, and as such is the direct sequel to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Do not expect more of the same, however. This is, after all, John le Carre, and he rarely, if ever, writes the same novel twice.

The le Carre novels that I have read tend to make use of two general frameworks. There are the 'whodunit' style stories, set primarily in London, such as Call for the Dead and TTSS. These ar
Stuart Ayris
Dec 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This the second in the Smiley/Karla trilogy - the only one (as far as I'm aware) that hasn't been dramatised and as such the least known of the three. Yet it is my favourite by far.

The main character is not George Smiley (although he is present in much of the novel) but Jerry Westerby, one of the Occasionals as they are referred to - foreign correspondents who do a little spying on the side. As such, it is altogether more human than either Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or Smiley's People - the r
Bevan Lewis
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A superb story, multifaceted with wonderfully evoked characters and settings. The pinnacle of the Smiley books thus far. Michael Jayston's narration is flawless as always in the Audible version.
Dillwynia Peter
Jun 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have read two classical espionage novels this year that puts into play the canon that would follow: Ashenden by Somerset Maughan and The Gadfly by Ethel Voynich. From these two novels it went two ways- glamourous settings & people, and heroic deeds; or covert activities, lots of watching and reporting and a dark side involving governments and betrayal. The former style is admirably covered by James Bond, or The Saint; the former became the style favoured by LeCarre.
I like LeCarre a lot. He att
Nick Baam
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Crime noir been given its due, with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain all winning Nobel prizes (haven't they?) (read Cain's Serenade), I nominate for the award the spy genre's only serious candidate, John le Carre. More, I nominate The Honourable Schoolboy as the best spy novel ever written, and the author himself doesn't put it in his top four.

The Honourable Schoolboy, second in the Karla Trilogy, coming after Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and before Smiley's People, is all a
Pavol Hardos
Super. Ripping. But you see, sport, this is a case of le Carré being himself but 'more so', as they would say at Sarratt. To the book's great detriment. The writing is not that great for there to be so much of it.

But the book's main shortcoming is the titular character, a journalist aristo cum spy named Westerby, dispatched by Smiley on a mission in the south-east. Annoying by half, in the final part of the book he [spoiler!] inexplicably turns out to be an utter cretin, when the plot so dictat
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-spies, audio
Honourable School Boy Another good production by the Smiley Players.  This radio drama more than a straight forward audio book.  The cast is great, especially Simon Russell Beale who plays Smiley.  It is more of morality tales that will make you think.  If you like Dowton Abbey, you might want to check this out as Hugh Bonneville has a large part.
Abubakar Mehdi
Feb 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Review coming soon !
Feb 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
164, 164, 228, 340, 433, 686.

This is the sixth in the tentative Smiley series (I say tentative because the "series" is mostly a marketing trick) and the second of the Karla Trilogy within that (also a marketing ploy although more believable).

The numbers above are the page counts (in the editions I read) of the six books so far. It doesn’t take a mathematician to spot a trend!

It is clear that THS is substantially longer than everything that has led up to it. And I have to say that I am not comple
Steven-John Tait
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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The Honourable Schoolboy was my first John Le Carré book and second spy novel. I was not disappointed. It won both The James Tait Black Memorial Award and The C.W.A Golden Dagger Award.

The UK's Secret Intelligence Service has been decimated by a Russian double agent. The meditative George Smiley sets out to rebuild the department and take down a Russian spy in Hong Kong which will take him closer to gaining his revenge over Karla, the Russian boss who drove the department's downfa
At times this was le Carre's best work. The chapter of the bureaucrats arguing over what to do was a triumph of showing government pettiness at it's best. But it did go on a bit, Westerby was just too smart, Guillam needs to find a new line of work and the women are trinkets. Of course the question of why did any of this matter was raised as George Smiley seemingly goes back into another retirement.
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Did Smiley order the death that closes the action? 7 119 Feb 25, 2020 05:53PM  
Two questions 3 16 Jan 02, 2019 01:35PM  
Why Did They Let Westerby Go? 11 147 Apr 19, 2018 06:32PM  
Espionage Aficion...: the 1963 coup d'etat in South Vietnam 4 16 Oct 26, 2017 04:42PM  
it is hands-down, the best ever written 17 76 Nov 23, 2014 01:50PM  

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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 40 years, where he owns a mile of cliff close to Land's End.

See also: John le Carré - Wikipedia

Other books in the series

The Karla Trilogy (3 books)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Smiley's People

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