Skip to Content

Once Upon A Bookshelf

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Author: John Le Carré
Originally Published: 1974
Edition Courtney Read Published: 1975
Publisher: Pan Books
Source: borrowed from Mom

The Story

From the Chapters website:

“It’s the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies?”

The man he knew as “Control” is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley isn’t quite ready for retirement-especially when a desperate Russian woman defector surfaces with a shocking accusation: a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of their vital operations and their best networks. He is one of their own kind. But which one? Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal cadre, Smiley traces the breach back to Karla – his Moscow Centre nemesis – and sets a trap to catch the traitor.

The Response

I thought I didn’t enjoy spy novels. Seriously. I’ve been avoiding them all my life with an “oh, that’s totally not my type of story.” This is the first real spy novel I ever read, and even though I was convinced that I didn’t like spy stories, well, I completely and thoroughly loved this.

It may be because I loved the film – I can’t say exactly what I would’ve thought about the book if I had read it first, which had been my original intention. It was in theatres when I was in England this fall, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see it then. Even having seen the movie first, though, I had a hard time keeping all of the characters straight at the beginning – had to keep opening up IMDB to see which actor played what character – and so would have no doubt found that much more overwhelming had I not seen the film first.

This is not a fast-moving story. Even having seen the movie, even knowing what was going on, the first third of the book was very hard for me to get into. It’s not a book with a lot of action – it’s very much a character-driven novel. The majority of the book finds George Smiley doing interviews, research and remembering. You learn so much about Smiley, learn what motivates him and makes him tick, you see through his actions how he would’ve been a fabulous spy and can understand why he was practically Control’s right-hand man. And through the novel, Smiley became one of my favourite literary characters.

I was highly impressed by the way Le Carré narrated this book. You know how some novels are a pleasure to read just because of how everything is phrased and because of the narration style? This is one of those books, and that completely took me by surprise. It shouldn’t have – I’ll be one of the first people to tell you that just because a book is a genre book doesn’t mean that it can’t be a well-written book or have literary merit or whatever. And yet, it surprised me anyway.

The narration in itself just seemed so reflective of who Smiley was – holding off all judgement until all avenues have been explored, quiet and unobtrusive… goodness! Are all of Le Carré’s books written in this way?

So now that I’ve fully enjoyed the book, I think it’s about time that I see the film again – too bad it’s not in theatres here yet. (Curse limited release movies!) Hopefully soon…

The Bottom Line

Definitely enjoyable. Wouldn’t recommend it to someone looking for a high-action novel, but if you don’t mind a slower-moving fully character-driven plot, this is definitely something you should pick up!

Other Reviews

Rat’s Reading, Nick’s Cafe Canadien, 2606 Books and Counting, Adventures in Reading. Have you reviewed this book on your blog? Let me know and I’ll add your link.

Posted by Courtney Wilson @ 6:58 am December 21, 2011.
Category: Mystery
Book Author(s):
Publisher(s): ,