Have you ever wanted to read a spy novel where the characters sit around and talk about their espionage operations, without doing much of anything? Unfortunately, this was my experience reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre.
The novel follows le Carre’s George Smiley, British Secret Intelligence Service (AKA MI6) during the 1970s. Smiley is tasked with finding a Soviet mole in British intelligence with a small group of other loyal officers. The novel flashes between Smiley’s investigation in the ‘present’ and the past when he talks to the other characters. The narrative style and the story itself were not so bad that I put the book down. I made it to the end. But it was if there was no sense of urgency to the novel. It was very difficult to stay focused on what was happening. Le Carre writes in a very dense, lengthy way, which works in parts of the book, but it did not work when something important was supposed to be happening. My eyes would start to glaze over at yet another long block of text.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not without redeeming qualities. While I found parts of the book to be boring, le Carre brings in his experience working in British intelligence to give the story realism. It was not a swashbuckling, James Bond-esque story, which I’m sure is far more realistic to actual intelligence operations. George Smiley was an interesting character, far removed from the dashing spy figure of movies. I liked that despite his connections to morally ambiguous spy work, he was more or less a normal man. The moral ambiguity was another aspect I did enjoy about TTSS. It’s hard to see the Soviets as totally evil, as they do the same kinds of seedy activities as the Free World intelligence operatives.
While, I didn’t hate the book, it was not my kind of story.