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In this classic masterwork, le Carré expands upon his extraordinary vision of a secret world as George Smiley goes on the attack.
In the wake of a demoralizing infiltration by a Soviet double agent, Smiley has been made ringmaster of the Circus (aka the British Secret Service). Determined to restore the organization's health and reputation, and bent on revenge, Smiley thrusts his own handpicked operative into action. Jerry Westerby, "The Honourable Schoolboy," is dispatched to the Far East. A burial ground of French, British, and American colonial cultures, the region is a fabled testing ground of patriotic allegiances?and a new showdown is about to begin.
589 pages, Paperback
First published September 1, 1977
‘Lunch,’ Martindale announced without much optimism. They ate it upstairs, glumly, off plastic catering trays delivered by van. The partitions were too low and Guillam's custard flowed into his meat.
Sometimes you do it to save face, thought Jerry, other times you just do it because you haven't done your job unless you've scared yourself to death. Other times again, you go in order to remind yourself that survival is a fluke. But mostly you go because the others go; for machismo; and because in order to belong you must share.
In this life you can give yourself or withhold yourself as you please, my dear. But never lend yourself. That way you're worse than a spy.
Never had Smiley gone into battle knowing so little and expecting so much. He felt lured, and he felt pursued. Yet when he tired, and drew back for a moment, and considered the logic of what he was about, it almost eluded him. He glanced back and saw the jaws of failure waiting for him. He peered forward and through his moist spectacles saw the phantoms of great hopes dancing in the mist. ... Yet he advanced without ultimate conviction.
We colonise them, Your Graces, we corrupt them, we exploit them, we bomb them, sack their cities, ignore their culture, and confound them with the infinite variety of our religious sects. We are hideous not only in their sight, Monsignors, but in their nostrils as well—the stink of the round-eye is abhorrent to them and we’re too thick even to know it.
In the East, sport, survival is knowing what you don't know.
To be inhuman in defence of our humanity . . . harsh in defence of compassion. To be single-minded in defence of our disparity.
... I chose the secret road because it seemed to lead straightest and furthest toward my country's goal. The enemy in those days was someone we could point at and read about in the papers. Today, all I know is that I have learned to interpret the whole of life in terms of conspiracy.
... These people terrify me, but I am one of them. If they stab me in the back, then at least that is the judgment of my peers.
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 two Conrad river ports.I smiled when I read this, for I had been thinking of Conrad for the last hundred pages or so. Most of Le Carre makes me think of Conrad. A career in espionage is—in its way—as isolating and maddening for the spy as the sea is for the sailor, as a far-flung colonial outpost is for the civil servant. Each of these remote milieux calls forth the uniqueness—and the oddness—of the lone individual, who, deprived of society’s customary comforts and restraints, may be seduced into making rash, irretrievable choices. This is perhaps doubly true of the secret agent, whose tasks require a counterfeit identity, the maintenance of which demands some degree of self-deception. Such a double life intensifies loneliness and may well lead the agent to disaster.
'Call for the Dead' (1961)
A really intelligent, beautifully written novel, and a great introduction to the Smiley books which I know will only get better and better.
'A Murder of Quality' (1962)
Beautifully written and expertly plotted, it also takes a razor sharp scalpel to snobbery and the British class system, and has a pleasingly authentic and complex psychological dimension.
'The Spy Who Came In from the Cold' (1963)
Treats the reader as sharp witted and bright enough to keep up. It is magnificent. Beautifully and economically written, and dealing in politics, intrigue and what it is to be human. A bold claim, but all life is here. It’s dark, very dark, but quite brilliant too.
'The Looking Glass War' (1965)
John le Carré lays bare snobbery, vanity, a sense of denial and delusion, repressed emotions, faded dreams, and incompetence. It's palpable, and often hard to read, but remains grimly compelling throughout. It’s exactly what he set out to write: a more truthful novel that captured the internal politics, the little Englander mentality, and the complacency of the mid-60s UK intelligence service.
'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' (1974)
A complete masterpiece and my favourite in the series to far. It is also the first of the Karla Trilogy. A joy from start to finish.
"I want you to extend to me the hand of welcome, sir. The United States of America has just applied to join the club of second-class powers, of which I understand your own fine nation to be chairman, president, and oldest member. Shake it!" (436)
The tiny ponds outside the high-rise hotels prickled with slow, subversive rain. (5)
Nobody learned anything, nothing changed, the offal was cleaned away in the morning. (331)
First, Smiley reviewed the wreck, and that took some while, in the way that sacking a city takes some while, or liquidating great numbers of people. (54)
[L]ittle ships, as Craw knew very well, cannot change course as easily as the winds that drive them. (192)
[Smiley]These people terrify me, but I am one of them. If they stab me in the back, then at least that is the judgment of my peers. (533)
Talking of others, old men talk about themselves, studying their image in varnished mirrors. (236)
While the Americans are adding another five metres of concrete to the Embassy roof, and the soldiers are crouching in capes under their trees, and the journalists are drinking whisky, and the generals are at the opium houses, the Khmer Rouge will come out of the jungle and cut our throats. (346)
[Smiley again] To be inhuman in defense of our humanity, he had said, harsh in defense of compassion. To be single-minded in defense of our disparity. (460)
[Jerry Westerby] had never seriously doubted, in his vague way, that his country was in a state of irreversible decline, or that his own class was to blame for the mess. (449)
Sometimes you did it to save face, thought Jerry, other times you just do it because you haven't done your job unless you've scared yourself to death. Other times again, you go in order to remind yourself that survival is a fluke. But mostly you go because the others go - for machismo - and because in order to belong you must share. (341)
These people terrify me but I am one of them
On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go,
And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so.