Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I've always thought that John le Carre's greatest novels were those set deep in the days of the Cold War, there is a truth and a chill at their heart that none of his later post-Cold War novels capture. One of his best, arguably his best novel, is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

At the time it was published it sparked "mole" fever throughout the UK, it seemed that every newspaper had its own ideas about who might have been the real-life mole at the heart of the British Secret Service. This was further fuelled by a plethora of non-fiction books investigating the damage done to the Service by Philby, Burgess and Maclean, and the ongoing repercussions. Although there were numerous suggestions, no-one has ever got to the heart of whether there was a long-term traitor right in the bowels of British Intelligence, but it remains the case that there is a firm belief that there was, and Tinker, Tailor is in no small part to blame for this.

Although fictional it has the ring of truth about it. Le Carre writes with great assurance of the secret world, its mores, camaraderie, and the blade of ice at its heart. The weariness of the Cold War seeps out of these pages, along with its pointlessness, and the unacknowledged work of all the little people who chipped away at its heart. This is a fantastic novel, which dissects the world of the spy. The narrative and atmosphere are brilliant, but it is in the area of character that Le Carre excels with his extraordinary hero, the retired spy, George Smiley, and the betrayed spy, Jim Prideaux. It's an amazing read.

The novel was televised brilliantly by the BBC in the late '70s, with a stand-out performance by Alec Guinness as Smiley, and a great ensemble cast. Apparently it is about to be filmed for the first time, with what looks like an excellent preliminary cast-list. I can't wait to see it....


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