The Honourable Schoolboy | Book Review


The Honourable Schoolboy is the second book in John Le Carré’s “Karla Trilogy,” in which George Smiley of Britain’s MI6 engages Russia’s KGB in clandestine warfare. In the first book—Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—Smiley exposed a long-time mole in the “Circus,” the nickname for Britain’s Now, Smiley reorganizes the “Circus” and chases down a “gold seam” of Russian money in a Hong Kong bank.

Set in the Far East, The Honourable Schoolboy introduces readers to sometime British spy, full-time journalist, and impoverished noble Jerry Westerby, whom Smiley taps to follow the money trail. Westerby follows the money, gets frustrated in the long days when Smiley isn’t sure what his next move should be, and falls hard for a woman who through some combination of bad choices and bad luck has fallen in with the wrong crowd.

The Honourable Schoolboy contains more action than Tinker, Tailor, and Westerby is a character more easily loved than Smiley. And yet, somehow, this novel still felt slower than its predecessor—hence the four-star review. Still, this is a page-turning novel set in the hottest part of the West’s long cold war with the East, and it is well worth reading.

 

Book Reviewed:
John Le Carré, The Honourable Schoolboy: A George Smiley Novel (New York: Penguin, 2011; orig. 1977).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Review of ‘The Looking Glass War by John Le Carré


The Looking Glass War is billed as “A George Smiley Novel.” It is the fourth installment in the series of John Le Carré books where Smiley plays a part, but his role here is very small.

The main story concerns the U.K.’s “Department” (military intelligence) competing with its “Circus” (political intelligence) for glory. The Department ran agents against the Nazis during World War II but has since fallen in missions, personnel, and funding. The Circus, on the other hand, seems to be gobbling up all those things. So, when the Department receives intelligence of a possible missile program in East German, it reactivates an old agent to confirm that program’s existence. The program doesn’t exist, the agent is captured but his fate left unknown, and Smiley is sent by Circus’ “Control” to communicate the reorganization of the Department.

While The Looking Glass War has some interesting bits about interdepartmental rivalry, the training of spies, and the perils of espionage to those who are carrying it out, on the whole, the novel failed to capture my imagination. I read it more out of duty than delight. Even Le Carré admits in his Introduction that it was received poorly by critics. After reading The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, this novel was a disappointment. Thankfully, Le Carré followed The Looking Glass War with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which I am currently reading, and that is a real page-turner.

If you, like me, prefer to read series’ novels in order, I can honestly recommend that you skip this one and go directly from The Spy Who Came in from the Cold to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. You won’t be missing much.

 

Book Reviewed:
John Le Carré, The Looking Glass War: A George Smiley Novel (New York: Penguin, 2013; orig. 1965).

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Review of ‘The Spy Who Came in from the Cold’ by John Le Carré


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a masterpiece. Set in the early Cold War period, it tells the story of the lengths a spy will go to for revenge. It is a testament to John Le Carré’s skill as a writer that even though we know the truth from the beginning—that protagonist Alec Leamas is putting one over on East German intelligence—we are carried along by his storytelling to the very moment when we discover that our “truth” isn’t even true.

 

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Book Reviewed:
John Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: A George Smiley Novel (New York: Penguin, 2012; orig. 1963).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.