The Honourable Schoolboy (The Karla Trilogy, #2) The Honourable Schoolboy discussion


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Why Did They Let Westerby Go?

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Leckband If anyone trips upon this question and has an idea, I would love to hear it, namely: Near the end of the book, Westerby has made it back to Hong Kong and he is caught by Smiley and crew at Elizabeth Worth's and Ko's apartment. It seems that Fawn and/or Guillam escort him out and then that should be it. So why did Smiley and crew let him go? They knew he was worse than a wild cannon at this point - they only had to quarantine him for a day or two until Nelson met up with Drake.

But Westerby is let go and then almost messes everything up and winds up dead. Or did I miss something in the finale and he escaped Smiley and crew? Any ideas?


message 2: by Feliks (last edited Mar 18, 2013 02:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks You've come to the right man. As I recall (after the pow-wow with George in the hotel) Westerby was being escorted out of the picture. He was being pulled out of the situation altogether and being removed to a safe house or perhaps back to England.

He had done everything they had asked for: gotten them all the intelligence on the upcoming hand-off. Smiley rightly saw though, that Westerby was unraveling. He was too attached to Lizzie; he was in danger of upsetting the transfer somehow.

Anyway, that's why Westerby later escapes from the vehicle. Guillam is driving; and Fawn is holding him in the back seat. Westerby smashes Fawn (hurrah!) shoves Guillam forward onto the steering column; and leaps out of the back door. You know the rest.


Fill Corey And that villain, Fawn, ultimately is the one who (later) delivers the fatal blow. Bastard.


message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Leckband Thanks for your replies! I mentioned my question to my wife who just finished it today - and she said "Are you crazy? He fought himself out after the tunnel - he wasn't let go." She then showed me the passage. Somehow I had skipped those pages!


message 5: by Feliks (last edited Mar 29, 2013 01:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks It is the best spy novel ever written.

Just to reflect and remember a little bit: LeCarre's previous book ('Tinker Tailor') immediately became --upon publishing--the definitive 'mole' story. He made that kind of novel his probably for all time. Reason: the depth of character and detail and history he brought to the narrative. He told the story from the inside, using characters that rang as true as you could ask for. And it was set in London; and covered all sorts of London spying history.

His previous big hit was 'In from the Cold'. What was that tale--at its heart--about? A British agent being planted over the lines in an attempt nail a powerful Russian spy chief. Slightly different kind of structure; but still archetypical.

What did he do in 'Schoolboy'? He was running out of grand, unifying plots and he needed one which would still seem fresh. He couldn't do another 'mole' story.

He ultimately chose a kind of 'defector' story. So far so good. But to jazz it up he chooses a 'stringer' as the lead character (Westerby is a reporter, not a career spy).

He sets the tale in one of the most exotic environments possible (SE Asia) and at the same time, one of the most iconic environments as far as the end of the British Empire is concerned. So, we get an eyeful of colonial politics and diplomacy. And its just not the same-old same old: Lecarre travels to Asia to do all his research in-person. Each page is meticulous with detail. Who had ever trod this ground before? Ambler and Greene, yes--a bit. But nothing like this.

And he wasn't done. He also adds in an adult, post-modern romance between Westerby and Lizzie; one which gets its fuel from the life-choices they've made and their respective backgrounds and upbringings.

But to cap it all off, LeCarre adds in the marvelous 2nd-act hunt for Tiny Ricardo. Westerby has to scour all over the peninsula to find this guy. The descriptions of the battles and the pock-marked landscapes are superb.

The book gets longer and longer as all this plays out; and damn its just the most ambitious spy novel I've ever encountered. Its a watershed for everything about the post WW-II era.


Fill Corey I'm with you, Feliks. I've read most of what LeCarre has written, and find that "Schoolboy" got deeper under my skin than most. My favorite portions have to do with the search for Tiny Ricardo (a great minor character), and the American presence in SE Asia. In the background, the seething resentment between the CIA and the DEA is terrific.


message 7: by Feliks (last edited Apr 10, 2013 12:02PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Feliks Huzzah! A fellow fan. Glad to know ya.

Yes, Westerby's hunt for the bizarre Tiny is one of the all-time great episodes in spy fiction. The sequence at the airport runway, where he doesn't recognize him. And then when Jerry enters the hut and Tiny has the .50 cal aircraft gun trained on him the whole time. The surreal ride in the jeep through the cratered landscape.

It says so much about LeCarre's ability that he was simply able to go travel to Hong Kong like this, do all this research and on the very first try concoct this gigantic novel with all the smoothness as if he was still in London writing about the Circus. Think about how rare that is: a novelist taking on a distant, exotic foreign culture and getting it right on the first try.

I agree also that what's wonderful in this novel, is that the massive presence of the US Vietnam war effort is "in the background". In the USA, we always assume that anything we do around the world is always the #1 news story. LeCarre's treatment was refreshing; painting us as we really are. Big money, big goals, brokering secret deals..but very clumsy and ill-mannered; doing everything with very little astuteness.

This novel is worth following up with the nonfiction juggernaut, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia by Alfred W. McCoy.

cheers mate!


Andrew I suppose Smiley just never figured Jerry that far gone to try to escape while being escorted out of the country.

Thanks for the recommendation Feliks, I'll be sure to check it out. It was interesting reading about the "siege economy" and the freelance pilots operating down there.


message 9: by Noah P. (new) - added it

Noah P. This is an excellent thread. I'm only sorry that I'm catching it two years late. That is all.


message 10: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Same with me Noah,

I'm not quite done the novel yet, but I clearly saw Jerry was done. Pretty much says it in the first bit so I skipped ahead a tiny bit (a terrible sin I know). We never actually see Jerry dead, as far as I can tell without spoiling it for myself, but it does seem that Fawn killed him. I just kind of like the idea that he somehow got away... Well, I'll be done by tomorrow and undoubtedly have thought more about it by then. Regards all.


Catherine Fitzpatrick Feliks wrote: "You've come to the right man. As I recall (after the pow-wow with George in the hotel) Westerby was being escorted out of the picture. He was being pulled out of the situation altogether and being ..."

OK. But if he is endangering the operation, I have to wonder -- and I don't understand -- why they had the whole crew come out to the field -- Smiley, Guillam, Collins, Fawns, and more. That's not normal. The guy running the op out in the field? And not only that, they all troop over to Lizzie's house toward the end. Was that operationally secure? Here they're worried about Westerby, but they're all clumping around like a Boy Scout troop. Makes no sense.


message 12: by Durruti77 (new)

Durruti77 I have thought a bit about the title... and I think maybe old John laid us a trick here: the honourable schoolboy is not Jerry, but Drake Ko. He was schooled western-style, he was a Hong Kong fat cat, but loyal and honest to his Chinese code, and finally, he knew he was being trapped, but elected to stand by his brother.
Jerry Westerby was not as honourable, because he messed things up in the end with his crazy fixation on Lizzy. What do you think?


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