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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré.

For such a small book this was a really slow one to read. It was written in a way where every word counts and you had to read every sentence really carefully to understand the plot. I often found myself reading and rereading one or two sentences or paragraphs over and over again because I was tired, my mind wandered and I couldn’t keep my thoughts together. I usually read before going to sleep and I seldom could finish more than a few pages of this book before I started to feel too drowsy to concentrate.

I’m not a big reader of suspense novels; especially spy thrillers are quite an unfamiliar genre to me. This was actually the first book by John le Carré I’ve ever read, even though the author is well-known. The book belonged to my father but for some reason he had two copies of it, so he gave the other one to me along with some other old books of his, such as the James Bond novel From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming amongst others. All the while reading the book I had the sensation of missing something: like I should know more than I did. I put it down to the fact that I’m not familiar with this type of writing, subjects (politics, espionage, international relations…) or the setting in the world of British Intelligence Agency. The book uses a lot of jargon and terms I'm not familiar with like lamplighters and dead letter boxes. There were also a lot of characters, many only mentioned by name, and if that’s not enough to confuse you, the people had multiple names as well – their spy working names. It was quite a lot of effort keeping track who’s who. Don’t expect any long portrayals of how people look and what they wear or their feelings, let alone any descriptive passages about landscapes or sunsets because there are none. It’s all about what’s happening and what has been said.

The main character is George Smiley, an ex-agent in the British Intelligence who was forced to retirement. He’s brought back to the “Circus” which is the highest office in the British Intelligence Agency to identify an undercover Soviet mole known by a codename “Gerald”. Smiley starts to dig through old files and talk to people who were also forced to leave the Circus after a failed operation to surface the mole Gerald years ago. How Smiley knew exactly what operation to start probing was left a bit unclear to me: there must be thousands of espionage cases in the Agency every year, especially since the story is situated in the time of the Cold War. But I guess spy novels are not meant to be that logical, since the action and suspense are the main aspects of that genre. OK, it was all explained in the end in the fashion of Hercule Poirot, but I would have wanted a bit more explanation along the way.

The last few pages were full-packed with action. All the suspense that had been building throughout the story was wrapped up in a couple of short chapters with a small sense of an anti-climax. The revelation of the mole was not quite as big a bomb to me as the reader as it seemed to be to the characters of the book. A lot of things were left hanging in the air. How the betrayal by the mole affected the other characters, Smiley especially and his wife Ann? How the mole Gerald actually became a mole for Russia? Who kills him in the end (sorry about the small spoiler) or was it a suicide? The ending raised more questions than it answered and it's clear that the book was planned to begin a series of Smiley-Karla-books. However there was not enough meat in the story for me to read the sequels. 

A good book to read on a holiday, but maybe not my kind of story. Doesn't mean I wouldn't read other books by le Carré or the same genre, but at least now I know what to expect...

In addition to finishing the book (and eating apple and blueberry pie and tarte tatin which I also made this weekend), I just finished weaving in all the bits of yarn of the Redford sweater. There's still sewing of the shoulder seams and then it's done. So tonight I finally get to cast on for a new project!


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