I didn’t love this when I first read it after its publication, but it has grown on me since! It’s fanservice, franchise-oriented writing at its best, and even if some of its details strain plausibility (just how old is Smiley?), it’s fun to see behind the scenes of Leamas’s narrative in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and to weld that narrative to characters we know from the Karla trilogy.
I skipped The Honourable Schoolboy for this Le Carré adventure because I think it’s the weakest of the Karla trilogy, and because the BBC Radio 4 adaptation made me dread what kind of stereotypical Chinese accents an audiobook reader might adopt. I couldn’t possibly skip Smiley’s People, though; I think I might like it even more than Tinker Tailor, though you can’t appreciate this without having read that. It has the best of Le Carré—copious but not irrelevant detail, moral ambiguity without needless grittiness, and a sense of inevitability that still keeps you hooked on the story.
I believe this is the third time I’ve read this book, and I’ve also enjoyed its BBC television and radio adaptations a lot. The first time I read it, I didn’t get it, the second time I loved it, and this time I see why it’s such a classic. It was fun to read the original after watching and listening to the adaptations pretty regularly over the past several years. Le Carré does well with detail, and I’d forgotten the subplots and side comments that get left out—but that add so much to the characters, the plot, and the overall feel of the book.
I’m continuing my journey theough Le Carré, and I thought I’d give his last, posthumous book a listen while waiting for my hold on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to cone through. It’s so interesting to compare this last book of his to his earlier works: There are more women (though I still don’t think it passes the Bechdel Test), more cell phones, and more swears than his early stuff, but the sense of inevitable plodding toward a disappointing end (for the protagonists at least) is just as strong as ever.
The movie adaptation of this book is what really got me into Le Carré. It’s twisty and cynical and compelling—just a great book. Not perfect, of course: Its age shows uncomfortably in some places, including the way it entirely fails the Bechdel Test. I can’t help but give it a full rating, though.
This week, it felt like it was time to revisit George Smiley. Smiley has been something of a comfort read these past several years, but it’s been some time since I visited the actual books, instead preferring the BBC Radio 4 dramatizations. They are superb, but I decided to listen to the “full” audiobooks this time through. Not all are available theough my library, but the best ones are, and that works just fine for me.
I only learned about The Sandbaggers last weekend, on an episode of The Incomparable, but I watched the entire first series this week—and loved it. It isn’t perfect: There’s too much 1970s casual misogyny for it to be self-critical in the same way that a modern show set in the 70s would be, and the brown face in one episode is also embarassing. Not setting those aside, I was still impressed with the way the show combined the bumbling hypocrisy of Yes, Minister; the self-serving internal politics of Slow Horses; and the cynical despair of Le Carré into a single, compelling show.
Since April, I’ve gotten sucked into the Slow Horses British spy series after really enjoying the Apple TV+ adaptation. I’ve been powering through all the full-length novels and am now reading 2021’s Slough House, which features a character who’s survived a bullet wound to the head. Her description stood out to me for one particular detail, though:
Her hair was different. Maybe that’s what death does to you. I twas still mostly red but now punkishly short, with a white stripe across her left temple where the bullet had passed…
I’ve been a big fan of audio-only media for a big chunk of my life. I grew up listening to NPR radio shows like Car Talk and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on Saturdays while my dad drove us around to do errands. TV wasn’t allowed in my family on Sundays, but the NPR Sunday Puzzle was—depending on what time church was that year, we’d listen to it on our way to Sunday meetings.
To paraphrase George Smiley, you can learn a lot about how those in power will treat people by the way they treat books.
link to ‘Texas’ governor wants ‘pornographic’ school library books removed : NPR’
A fun article that reminds me of my plans to create a Cleric of Trickery based on George Smiley for an upcoming 5e campaign.
link to ‘Bugs Bunny’s Official D&D Character Sheet Is A 15th-level Illusionist | Boing Boing’
I can appreciate Le Carré’s shocking twists over and over—because he is also good at the inevitable-but-gripping and because he uses them both to create compelling tragedy.