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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (George Smiley, #5; Karla Trilogy #1)
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New School Classics- 1900-1999 > Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- Spoilers

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message 1: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
This is the discussion thread for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré, our New School Classic Group Read for September 2019.

Spoilers are allowed in this thread. Please feel free to discuss anything relating to the book.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1508 comments I have started. To begin with I had trouble with the jargon and also his a bit under-explained writing style. Reading it in English (my second language). It could be a language/culture thing. For example:

“ […] who pointed out the sweater. Marjoribanks was not a cricketer but he had strolled down to watch with Thursgood.
“Do you think that sweater’s kosher,” he asked in a high, jokey voice, “or do you think he pinched it?” “

What on earth is going on here? What sweater? Why kosher?


message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 01, 2019 02:39PM) (new)

Sweater is part of the uniform of a cricketer. "Kosher" (legitimate) meaning it was his, pinched meaning he stole it. He joking about whether he stole the sweater or was legitimately his. Later on in the book he refers to someone being "persil." Persil is a laundry detergent, therefore the person is "clean," not a spy.


message 4: by Katy, New School Classics (last edited Sep 01, 2019 02:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
Later, a couple paragraphs after... "Bogus Oxford men he could deal with..."

I interpreted this to mean that not only did Jim not steal the sweater, but he actually had earned the right to wear it by attending & playing cricket at Oxford.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1508 comments So what Marjoribanks says is - in translation

“Do you think that sweater is a real Oxford sweater or do you think he pinched it?”

meaning

“Did he really go to Oxford?”


message 6: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
In my opinion, yes the question was, "Did he really go to Oxford and play cricket for the team?"


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1508 comments I started a new book today Authority. The very first words are ”In Control’s dreams ….” Funny.


message 8: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
J_BlueFlower wrote: "I started a new book today Authority. The very first words are ”In Control’s dreams ….” Funny."

LOL


Indeneri | 5 comments i know it rains in England, but not this much!

Every time Smiley pokes his head out the door it's raining.


message 10: by Canavan (new) - added it

Canavan I’m only a few chapters in at this point. A couple of things jumped out right away. First, one notes the rather heavy foreshadowing with young Roach’s close observations of Jim Prideaux, e.g., “He [Bill] imagined also that, like himself, Jim had had a great attachment that had failed him and that he longed to replace.” Second, I’m used to the idea of class playing a big part in British literature of the 19th and early 20th century; I was a little bit surprised to see how much of a role it plays in this book, which is set in 1973.


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Christopher (Donut) | 179 comments If I thought I could finish The Looking Glass War by the end of August, I was wrong.

Still, it does look like a suitable preamble, or prelude to Tinker Tailor, so I will keep reading it before joining the group read.

The Looking Glass War


Indeneri | 5 comments Canavan wrote: "I’m only a few chapters in at this point. A couple of things jumped out right away. First, one notes the rather heavy foreshadowing with young Roach’s close observations of Jim Prideaux, e.g., “He ..."

I felt that way too, about the class structure. Everyone recruited seems to be related to someone who is either a diplomat or a Don or something.

I also found it interesting how all the women seem to be either retired or close too. They all seem to have been recruited during the war years. During peace time there seemed no need for further female involvement in the service and were never replaced with younger women.

They also didn't seem to rise through the ranks, unlike the men who were on a more defined career progression or at least felt that their time of service should be rewarded with a promotion.

I think that reflects the social situation at the time, that women joined the workforce during the war years, but afterwards were expected to return to being housewives.


message 13: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
Indeneri wrote: "...I also found it interesting how all the women seem to be either retired or close too. They all seem to have been recruited during the war years. During peace time there seemed no need for further female involvement in the service and were never replaced with younger women..."

I didn't make that connection with peace time. Thank you for thinking where I didn't.


Tammy | 3 comments Canavan wrote: "I’m only a few chapters in at this point. A couple of things jumped out right away. First, one notes the rather heavy foreshadowing with young Roach’s close observations of Jim Prideaux, e.g., “He ..."

From what I understand, until very recently the British spy establishment was populated strictly by 'gentlemen', i.e., upper class, Oxford or Cambridge, from the right families and with the right connections. It was assumed those attributes equaled being a loyal Brit who would act in the country's best interests. They simply couldn't imagine a gentleman being disloyal, self-interested, or incompetent. It was only after they got burned a few times that they've changed their tune. A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal does a great job looking at this issue.


message 15: by Christopher (new) - added it

Christopher (Donut) | 179 comments But the whole point of James Bond was that he was 'not a gentleman.'


message 16: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
So I'm thinking there is much more to the sweater incident (see above comments) than I originally thought. It is also marking Jim as a gentleman so that we can begin to fit him into the spy category?


Philina | 1562 comments Christopher wrote: "But the whole point of James Bond was that he was 'not a gentleman.'"

I think having the rebel as the protagonist just makes the whole story more interesting.

However, 007 isn't total blue collar, either. He attended Eton and got expelled which means that his family had the means and connections to get him in there in the first place.

I think the key question is how we define "gentleman". Is it mainly family or rather behavior? And how does the historical era fit in? And cultural background?

From my modern day German standpoint I would say it's mostly behavior. I was raised with the understanding that a gentleman behaves properly. He does the morally right thing, helps others, protects the weak, has honor so that you can trust his word, opens doors, gifts flowers and helps you into your coat.
Kind of like modern day knightly values.
Being rich or from an upper class family has no influence on this. If a rich upper class guy behaves like a jerk he is certainly no gentleman.

Historically, gentleman could very well have been connected to class rather than behavior. It might have meant being a genteel man who didn't have to work, but could live on the family's wealth (landowner), thus contrasting gentlemen and workers.

What do you think defines a gentleman?


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1508 comments Philina wrote: "What do you think defines a gentleman? ."

Oxford English Dictionary? Merriam-Webster? ;-)

Wikipedia: "In modern parlance, a gentleman ... is any man of good, courteous conduct. Originally, a gentleman was a man of the lowest rank of the English gentry, standing below an esquire and above a yeoman. "

James Bond?
If you google James Bond, you get hint like "12 life lessons every gentleman can learn from James Bond"

"The James Bond Guide To Being A Gentleman"
...
Tip #4: Having good manners can help you save the world
Tip #5: Dining etiquette is essential – even when your host plans to kill you


message 19: by PinkieBrown (new)

PinkieBrown To add to the discussion of the meaning of gentleman in this context; it reminds me of the pertinence of the phrase “an officer and a gentleman”; that MI6 is a branch of the military and that these were considered officers, with all the connotations of code and class that come with it; so gentleman carries a particular weight in that context.

It also reminds that MI6 in particular; like the KGB and the CIA were engaged in the Cold War in a sense of threat and action, that the regular military services weren’t.




————


message 20: by Christopher (new) - added it

Christopher (Donut) | 179 comments I looked at some of the online James Bond commentary, and I think it's safe to say the Internet comes down on two sides of the debate, with both sides trying very hard.

I thin the most famous examples of Bond's brutishness are from early on.

Suffice it to say, a move like this:



is hard to live down.

If I could filibuster a little bit more, I do remember a review of the recent movie which was generally favorable, but pointed out that one false note was, in order to capture a bit of seventies atmosphere, the movie has two of the spies eat out at a Blimpie Burgers (or maybe it was just called Blimpie's). At any rate, the review says two men of their class would sooner have starved than eaten at Blimpie's.




Indeneri | 5 comments Katy wrote: "Indeneri wrote: "...I also found it interesting how all the women seem to be either retired or close too. They all seem to have been recruited during the war years. During peace time there seemed n..."

Thanks Katy. This is what I love best about the group reads. Everyone sees the same thing differently!


Indeneri | 5 comments The story tends to meander a bit, but never really goes off course.

I like that its the ultimate retirement-revenge story. I could see in the begining that he really wanted to get back at those who had him fired, even more than he wanted to get his wife back!

I liked the anti-climax bit. I think it suits the protagonist well.


Julia | 20 comments Just some thoughts after finishing.

So Jim killed Bill after figuring out who betrayed him? Did Jim realize from his conversation with George or by following George?

One large theme at the end appears to be the destructiveness and necessity of illusion and self-deception when it comes to our expectations of others. All the players “had tacitly shared that half-knowledge which like an illness they hoped would go away if it was never owned to, never diagnosed.” And later: “The last illusion of the illusionless man . . , Illusion? Was that Karla’s name for love? And Bill’s? And finally, “The gun, Bill Roach had finally convinced himself, Was, after all, a dream.”

Dear George,
No, don’t go back to a woman who’s cheated on you repeatedly. No, don’t sympathize with someone callously responsible for many deaths.


message 24: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
Julia wrote: "So Jim killed Bill after figuring out who betrayed him? ..."

Or because Jim felt betrayed personally by Bill?


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Wikipedia article on "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" has a list of characters and a list of jargon (with meanings) used in the book.


message 26: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3183 comments Don wrote: "Wikipedia article on "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" has a list of characters and a list of jargon (with meanings) used in the book."

I wish I would have had that before I read it! Not so much for the jargon (I felt I picked that up ) but I found this to be one of the most difficult books I've read in terms of keeping track of characters. I had to keep going back over and writing down names and positions.

I did find it worth the work. I love LeCare's writing. Smiley is such a great character. His wife Ann on the other hand, urgh! I agree with Julia He needs to divorce her. It was a good plot to have Hayden have an affair with her because it did kind of make you suspect him less for some reason.

I loved the Jim Prideaux and Bill Roach storyline.

I think Jim felt personally and professionally betrayed by Bill. He realized that he was just used like Anne was.


Tammy | 3 comments I have no idea if I'm out in left field with this, but I think Ann, in addition to being a real character, also symbolizes the UK. And just like the UK, no matter what either does to George, he will remain committed. His entire adult life has been given over to the needs of others, whether they have his back or not; he's not going to change now.


message 28: by Tami (new) - added it

Tami (pdxbridgegirl) I finished this a few weeks back. It was my first experience reading both a spy novel and le Carré. I'm glad that I've done both now, but I don't really feel a need to travel down either path further.

I'm a rather savvy reader and I think I'm relatively well educated, but I was often lost in this novel. I'm sure that has to do more with my taste in reading than with the novel itself. It simply wasn't the sort of writing that I'm wired for. The writing itself, however, was very well crafted. Broken down to the quality of its sentences and structure it really was quite elegant.


message 29: by Natty (new)

Natty S (cindyneal) | 5 comments I just read this book a year or two ago and couldn't re-read it this month but I enjoyed reading this discussion. I remember being a bit lost with this book too, though it felt like overhearing a conversation where you're unsure of the context but enjoy all the juicy details you're hearing nonetheless. ;-)

Love your comment, Tammy, about Ann symbolizing the UK. It's an especially relevant comment considering the next book in the series, The Honorable Schoolboy is all about the faithfulness of Britain to its servants. I actually enjoyed that book even more than Tinker....

And I'm glad you also mentioned Kim Philby, as my understanding is that Bill is based on him. Class is a huge deal in this book and in British spying of the WWII-post war era. Philby was among a number of upper class British spies who were able to pass secrets to the Soviets with impunity for so long because they were the right sort of chaps. A number of films have been made about the Cambridge spy ring, with class being central to the plot.

I still need to read Smiley's People... :-)


Powder River Rose (powderriverrose) | 152 comments I started, and listened, stopped, started again then said to myself “sometimes it’s alright to toss it aside and never look back.” I just couldn’t get into the story but I have enjoyed reading the comments. Thank you all.


message 31: by Katy, New School Classics (new) - rated it 4 stars

Katy (kathy_h) | 9434 comments Mod
Powder River Rose wrote: "I started, and listened, stopped, started again then said to myself “sometimes it’s alright to toss it aside and never look back.” I just couldn’t get into the story but I have enjoyed reading the ..."

I never feel guilty on quitting a book that I can't get into reading. So many other books to read.


message 32: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3183 comments i finally gave myself permission to do that with A Pair of Blue Eyes. I normally have to finish.


message 33: by Brina (new)

Brina Found it. Thanks!


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

I read the other two books in the series, which are more plot-driven than the first book. The first book was more atmospheric than the others. It was harder to read because of the unfamiliar jargon. I still enjoy reading John le Carré with his characterizations.


message 35: by Li (new) - rated it 5 stars

Li He | 59 comments I have read all three books in the series twice. It seems to me that Jim Prideaux in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Jerry Westerby in The Honourable Schoolboy are based on the same person if they are based on some person in real life. And this person is also recycled in Single and Single. I enjoy the Smiley's series, not so much the Single and Single because the plot seems a bit far-fetched.


message 36: by Li (last edited Jan 27, 2020 06:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Li He | 59 comments And I didn't enjoy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the first 100 pages because I could not quite follow what was going on. But I persisted and started to get into the story after that, and when I was reading the book the second time, all those seemingly irrelavant small details in the first 100 pages start to make sense and I enjoyed the book better on second reading.


message 37: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3059 comments Mod
Li wrote: "And I didn't enjoy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for the first 100 pages because I could not quite follow what was going on. But I persisted and started to get into the story after that, and when I was..."

That is excellent to hear! I have just purchased/downloaded an Audible audiobook to go with my copy. January was busier than I thought it would be, so perhaps I will read it in February.


message 38: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3059 comments Mod
Canavan wrote: "I’m only a few chapters in at this point. A couple of things jumped out right away. First, one notes the rather heavy foreshadowing with young Roach’s close observations of Jim Prideaux, e.g., “He ..."

I am starting the book months after the regular read. Right now I am 27% into the book. It is the first John le Carré novel I have ever read and only the second spy thriller ever. I agree about your observation on English class system. My edition has a forward by Le Carre where he discusses several interesting things.

1. Le Carre deliberately made Smiley and Prideaux into characters who moved in and amidst the upper class members of society without really being a part of them. Le Carre felt that he personally had been in that position and they represent him. I thought that was cool.

2. Le Carre said that he was surprised when the Oxford English Dictionary representatives contacted him because several of the "spy" jargon terms he created became part of the English language and were added into the dictionary. One such term was "honey trap" which we hear in the news in the United States today.


message 39: by PinkieBrown (new)

PinkieBrown Le Carré did receive “the benefits of a classical education” and what’s slightly ironic is that the communist spies in Cold War Britain all came from that circle; although, and in a reflection of modern times when politics is swinging to the extremes, those Oxbridge educated communists were reacting to the rise of fascism, pre-war, in the same way that the Berlin intellectuals had all swung towards the right because they were terrified of communism rising in Germany.


message 40: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3059 comments Mod
PinkieBrown wrote: "Le Carré did receive “the benefits of a classical education” and what’s slightly ironic is that the communist spies in Cold War Britain all came from that circle; although, and in a reflection of m..."

Very interesting. All of this is what qualifies the book as "historical fiction". It feels weird to be reading a book written during my lifetime, set in my memory, yet it's historical fiction!!


message 41: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3059 comments Mod
Warning this will contain spoilers. Read at your own risk. I am not normally a reader of spy novels, so this was new. I did once read The Odessa File in the mid 1970s, so I guess this is my second spy novel.

First, the parts I found difficult were the names. There were so many characters and those had aliases. Also, because it was a story about clandestine operatives, the characters were not fleshed out early. This made it hard for me to keep up with who was who. As a consequence, I read very slowly and repeated many of the chapters.

Overall, I enjoyed the way the book ended. If not for the last three chapters, I would not have enjoyed it at all. Finally, we get some inkling of the characters' motivations. An all action narrative feels so empty to me. Poor George Smiley; he does seem to have a fatal flaw. I think his flaw is that he falls in love with people and institutions who are not faithful toward him. We see it in his marriage, his friendships, and in his work. Somehow he persists in his love of others and institution in spite of their lack of faith to him. There ya go. I focus on character interaction and motivations.


message 42: by Lynn, Revisit the Shelf (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lynn (lynnsreads) | 3059 comments Mod
Indeneri wrote: "Canavan wrote: "I’m only a few chapters in at this point. A couple of things jumped out right away. First, one notes the rather heavy foreshadowing with young Roach’s close observations of Jim Prid..."

I agree about the women in peacetime comment, and wanted to add a second dimension to that. After either of the Great Wars in the early 20th Century there was a demongraphic imbalance after the war. There were more women than men. There were many war widows or those who never married.


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

Lynn wrote: "Warning this will contain spoilers. Read at your own risk. I am not normally a reader of spy novels, so this was new. I did once read The Odessa File in the mid 1970s, so I guess this..."
I agree about what you said about the book. It was like being dropped in another culture without knowing the language. The other two books in the series were more plot-driven. (The Honorable Schoolboy and Smiley's People). The second book involved another main character with Smiley directing the spy ring. The third is about trying to capture Karla. Wikipedia has lists of characters and the lingo used in the books. I enjoyed John le Carré witticism. I am sure there were some that I didn't get due to the culture.


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