Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
By John Le Carré

In case you are wondering, John Le Carré is not going to hold your hand. Not even for one page.

You'd be well served to do your homework before attempting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John Le Carré's classic Cold War spy novel featuring the enigmatic George Smiley and the first novel in his Karla Trilogy. You are going to need all your knowledge about Cold War era espionage to decipher this narrative, but I'll come back to that in a bit, but first a little background. Unlike Le Carré, I will hold your hand (and take you out for a nice steak dinner, if you are inclined).

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy progresses via a series of flashbacks and tracks the history of the Circus (the in-house name of M16, the Secret Intelligence Service). After an agent engages in a love affair with the wife of a Soviet intelligence officer in Hong Kong, it becomes apparent that the British office has been infiltrated by a mole. Smiley has the unenviable task of ferreting out the mole, spying on the spies as it were. The title of the novel are the code names given to the potential spies in the British intelligence service. A trap is set, the culprit is apprehended and there's a neat little twist ending that... oh who am I kidding? I have no idea how this book ended. I finished it, but I'm not entirely sure what happened.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is considered a classic in the spy genre and was recently made into a film starring my favorite actor of all time, Gary Oldman, as George Smiley. the film garnered several Academy Award nominations including a Best Actor nod for Oldman (good for him!). I can't vouch for the film, though because I haven't seen it and after reading the novel, I have no plans to do so (even if it does have Gary Oldman... I'm not a fanboy). That's how much this novel frustrated me.

I's not no idjit, ya hear? But I couldn't make heads nor tails of this book. It was borderline nonsense to me. Entire chapters would go by and I had no idea what had just happened. At times I felt like I was reading a foreign language. I'm not the sort to be intimidated by a novel and I'm more than comfortable diving into classic novels that others find weird, verbose or abstract (I've read and enjoyed Naked Lunch, Vurt and Pussy, Queen of the Pirates, I'll have you know!). But even with the Wikipedia page and other sorts of cliff notes, I had trouble understanding this book. I realized there were flashbacks and I could follow the storyline at times. but there seemed to be a never-ending chorus line of minor characters and pointless tangents. It was an overload of information!

And the jargon, my GOD! I was constantly going back to find out that the hell a lamplighter or shoemaker or a janitor was. It was infuriating. I found myself drifting off for pages at a time and not really caring about what I had missed. Not a good sign when reading.

Now, I know that John Le Carré is a well respected spy novelist and I'm not going to go so far as to disrespect the man on this blog like I did to Cathy Lamb. Salman Rushdie is not everyone's cup of tea, but his reputation affords him some wiggle room from people who don't like his work (even from Ayatollahs). I think I owe Le Carré the same courtesy. So, instead of rambling on about why I didn't like this book, I'd like to hear from anyone out there that did like this book and why? Given its stature as a classic, there must be more than a few people out there that love this book. I'm addressing you! What did I miss here? How could I have read this book differently and enjoyed it? Really! I hate it when I don't get it but....

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? I don't get it.

(It does have a cool cover, though).


Jenny said...

Well don't feel too bad. Most the books you read would have me reacting the way you did while reading this one.

Becky said...

That is too bad... I was interested in checking it out. Well, if you are interested in a really great political/medical thriller, you must check out J. Thomas Shaw's latest book, "The Rx Factor." I found the book to be intriguing, and just loved the fast paced, non-stop action- with a twist of romance! Here's the link

Ryan said...

I'll check out the Rx Factor. Thanks for the recommendation.

Buried In Print said...

Though I haven't read one of his books, I've long wanted to. I see this one is part of a series (; I wonder if it would have been more satisfying if you'd started with an earlier book, but having no experience with his work myself I have nothing really useful to offer! I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it more; I hate feeling like I've totally missed the point of a work that so many people have adored.

Becky said...

You're welcome Ryan. I hope you enjoy The Rx Factory as much as I did.

bookspersonally said...

I am so relieved... I watched the movie on the airplane and had a similar reaction (truly excellent acting but intricacies of the plot extremely confusing and I'm not at all sure how it ended). Though I was very, very intrigued in reading the book! Or maybe now, not.

Athira said...

Yikes! And my knowledge of the Cold War is thiscloseto nothing! By now, I have 2-3 Le Carre on my wishlist. Someday, I keep saying.

Ryan said...

I've decided to watch the movie when I get the chance. Maybe that will help me.

JaneGS said...

Now you've got me worried. I want to see the movie, so I figured that I better read the book first. I put in my order on paperbackswap, and last night got word that's on my way.

And now I read your review!

Well, you warned me :)

Ryan said...

To be fair, though, I seem to be alone in my confusion. So there's hope.

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