The Reading Room

Le Carré Revisited

I have begun revisiting the canon of John Le Carré recently. Inspired once again by the reissues of his catalogue by the Modern Classics arm of Penguin Publishing, I have decided to reread the classics beginning with the Smiley trilogy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Honourable School Boy and Smiley’s People.

Le Carré was at the height of his powers, save for the epic A Perfect Spy and these books bring back special memories for me. The Honourable Schoolboy was a book I regularly took on trips to South East Asia where much of it is set and of course the BBC adaptation starring Alec Guinness is one of my all time great visual experiences.

I have written before about latter day Le Carré; his writing was on a downwards trajectory for some years before his death but it shouldn’t and indeed doesn’t diminish his earlier work. He maintains a remarkably loyal following and Penguin, to their credit have given his books a fresh appeal with these striking covers.

So I shall work my way through the Smiley years with a pleasing sense of nostalgia before taking a fresh, more critical look at amongst other, Our Game, The Little Drummer Girl and Call For the Dead. Penguin have breathed fresh air into the works of Len Deighton with their intriguing reissues and it is pleasing to see the appeal of the well-crafted spy novel hasn’t lost its appeal with both publishes and audience. Whilst I recognised and understood Le Carré’s desire to broaden his literary horizons there can be no doubt that his finest work lay in the theatre of the Cold War. There were may more battlefields he could have visited across the espionage globe but we have enough to be thankful for.

I would love to know which are your favourites and your thoughts on these latest reissues..

Categories: The Reading Room

4 replies »

  1. I don’t agree with you about the downward trajectory. There was certainly unevenness between some of the later books and his peak writing but much of the later work is written in a more fluid style – less bleak in some respects, more worldly..
    Le Carre’s work to my mind is a bit like Graham Greene who divided his writing into serious novels and entertainments.


    • Welcome to the site and thank you for commenting. I understand what you say, I do sit firmly in the camp of earlier Le Carré, for me, his later books were driven by political agenda, which is fine and his perogative to do so but I do believe his writing suffered for it. His ability to write believable dialogue had withered and maybe I simply hunkered after the old books too much. Personally I found his disdain for certain countries and politicians, though understandable, overdrawn and tiring. As for the Greene comparison I will never know how he got away with Tailor of Panama! Many thanks for your comment, it’s very welcome and appreciated


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