Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carre

Or, What George Smiley Did Next.  This picks up where Tinker Tailor ends - Smiley's uncovered the mole, but the Circus has been deeply compromised.  Operations are being wound up across the world, and the cousins (CIA) are poised to fill the vacuum.  George is getting increasingly obsessive about Karla at Moscow Central, but is he ignoring other threats closer to home?

This is mostly set in the Far East, Hong Kong especially.  Another Karla operative is uncovered there and journalist and spy Jerry Westerby is called out of semi-retirement to investigate.

There's lots to love about this book.  The Circus stuff is great, especially seeing Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke in the film) back at the centre of things.  You've also got Westerby stirring things up in Hong Kong, and making dangerous detours through Cambodia at the height of the Khmer Rouge, and meeting crazy mercenaries in the jungles of Thailand.

But I didn't enjoy it as much as Tinker Tailor.  When I finished the first thing I did was look up wikipedia to find out what happened.  That's not a good sign.  That's partly because, having checked, the ending doesn't really make sense.  It's like the author just wanted everyone in the same place to make it more dramatic.  But I must take some of the blame for my confusion.

I was listening to this as a book on tape, and I suspect there were some chunks missing.  And I think with something as subtle as this, you really need to have it written down.  I remember quite often re-reading pages of Tinker Tailor to get it all clear in my head - here, it was just gone and I was on the next chapter.

I was also a bit disappointed by the direction it takes.  It's set up as Smiley taking the fight to Karla through his own moles, but that's not what happens.  Instead, you get Le Carre's growing detestation of America (or the CIA, to be fair) which has come to the fore in his more recent novels.

I'm getting a bit suspicious of his portrayal of women as well.  The main female character in this really is a pain in the neck.  The beautiful, tragic victim/whore we've seen a million times.  Then you've got Smiley's pathologically unfaithful wife Ann still lurking off camera.  Peter Guillam manages to seduce a member of the circus, but the only thing we find out about her is she starts off a bit frigid.  The only woman who really shines is Connie.  But then she's old, dotty, drunk and in a wheelchair.  One of the boys, really.

Still, I've got the concluding part of this semi-official trilogy to go - Smiley's People.   I'm not sure  where it's going to go after the end of this one, but I'm still looking forward to it.


Anonymous said...

Ha! Ha! "But then she's old, dotty, drunk and in a wheelchair. One of the boys, really."

Maybe says more about you than Le Carre.

- Bryce

Joe said...

Yeah, we need to get ourselves some wheelchairs. Maybe shopping trolleys would do?