Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John LeCarre: About the Book

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy written by John Le Carre
343 pages


Opened  December 9, 2011
Stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, Colin Firth as Bill Haydon, Tom Hardy as Ricky Tarr, John Hurt as Control, Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux. Benedict Cumberbatch as Peter Guillam, Cieran Hinds as Roy Black, Cathy Burke as Connie Sachs and Philip Martin Brown as Thesinger
Directed by Tomas Alfredson


About the Book:
This is John LeCarre at his masterful best. Just like his character, George Smiley, LeCarre moves things along quietly, in his polite and gentle way, until BAM, he has got you good. No escape. No escape for us and none for the mole that Smiley has been brought back from forced retirement to find.
I love how LeCarre takes his time with the setting so we really see every inch of gloomy England, can almost taste the tension in the air at the circus. The characters are so well drawn out; real and not a caricature in the bunch.
The storyline is complicated but realistic and absolutely worth every second of reading. If you love British spy novels, you've no doubt read this one. If you haven't, add it to your TBR pile. It's so worth it. And believe it or not, the ending actually made me cry.
The film, by the way, was brilliant too.

My Reading Log (may contain spoilers, yeah, it probably does)

November 14, 2011
"
The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn't dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood's at all. He came in mid-term without an interview -- late May, it was, though no one would have thought it from the weather --employed through one of the shifiter agencies specialising in supply teachers for prep schools, to hold down old Dover's teaching till someone suitable could be found."
This is how Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy begins, and as I settle in to read a few pages, I can't help thinking 'Oh, how good it feels to be in England, how comfortable, especially in the masterful hands of LeCarre'. I have a sudden longing for tea and biscuits in front of the fire, oh and a cat too, dammit.  If one didn't know better, one would not be blamed for thinking she was about to embark on a poignant tale ala Goodbye Mr. Chips. LeCarre takes his time, much the same way as the best intelligence is gathered gently, slowly, with patience (no water boarding here, thank you very much), LeCarre lulls us with lovely passages and quiet grace until suddenly, when having meant to spend just a few minute dipping into the opening pages, I find myself on page 117 and wondering where the past couple of hours went.
Witness Jim Prideaux' entrance ...
"Jim Prideaux arrived on a Friday in a rainstorm. The rain rolled like gunsmoke down the brown combes of the Quantocks, then raced across the empty cricket fields into the sandstone of the crumbling facades. He arrived just after lunch, driving an old red Alvis and twoing a second-hand trailer that had once been blue."
LeCarre is a seducer and  skillfull one. He knows I can't resist George Smiley and his world and I can't! Of course I keep thinking of Gary Oldman - who isn't at all fat - vs Alec Guinnes - who was a little more so- as George Smiley and I hope he can play it gently enough. Colin Firth seems like a brilliant choice for Haydon, Mark Strong perhaps a bit young for Prideaux. Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception)  is one of the years' big heartthrobs and I can see him with his full lips and somewhat loutish good looks as being just right for Rikki Tarr.
I hope I am not compelled to finish this book in one sitting! I'd like to savor the pleasure.

November 16, 2011
Having left Jim Prideaux in the caring hands of young Bill Roach - oh, please, I want to beg, don’t break up this happy pair. Bill “Jumbo” Roach needs Prideaux to watch over and to idealize, so that he has some sense of his own purpose in the world that we really hope they can continue to stay on at Thursgoods forever. Where Jim can go “pounding down Combe Lane with a rucksack on his crooked back as he returns from his morning march.” and Bill Roach and the other school boys can “covertly watch him at golf, which he played with a dreadful old iron, zigzagging across the playing fields, often after reading to them from an extremely English adventure book: Biggles, Percy Westerman, or Jeffrey Farnol, grabbed haphazard from the dingy library.”
It’s just so cozy and idyllic. Of course this isn’t some ancient edition of Boys Life magazine, it’s a spy story, where George Smiley is brought out of forced retirement in order to investigate whether there is a mole in the bureau. So the landscape has to change. The pace has to change too although at this point it’s more about quiet sweating and thinking than the hard action and fisticuffs you’d find in a James Bond action saga. And I assume even at its climax Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy won’t be about raging violence anyway.
In a way, it’s easier to remember the large cast of characters that make up the Circus when you can put a face on them, easier when you can match them up with the actors playing them. Is that cheating? I suppose it is and I hope John LeCarre won’t mind. I have no trouble keeping tabs on the sly and slippery Tom -Ricky Tarr- Hardy or seeing Colin- Bill Haydon - Firth having a love affair with Lady Ann right in front of poor George‘s face. And I can just picture the supercilious smile on Haydon/Firth’s face. Grrrr!. Getting to know Control better this time around, who else but John Hurt should play him unless it could be Peter O‘Toole? Crazy, senile, near death, but as the Mothers say with their eyebrows raised “towards paradise. “A terminal case,” said these gentle glances. “We are humoring a great man at the end of his career.” I love the “young” Peter Guillam character with the girl on his mind as he goes about the nail biting business of switching files. Just now had a peek at the actor playing him, Benedict Cumberbatch and he is quite dishy and just right. He’ll be out in another movie based on a book in December, when he plays Major Stewart in Speilberg’s War Horse.
And George, of course, “Small, podgy, and at best middle-aged, he was by appearance one of London’s meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile
I guess Gary Oldman’s role in the Batman movies must have given the director the idea to use him. Give him a pair of oversized glasses, the pasty skin, and yes, he can be that typical Englishman, retired, padding around in his slippers, or watering his roses, while his wild wife wanders off with Haydon or who knows who. I love his interrogation methods too - filled with silences - and innocently phrased questions. He’s a British hybrid of Columbo (RIP, he died this past June), Jethro Gibbs, and Adrian Monk.
November 17, 2011
I’d forgotten, I think, just how quiet and controlled Le Carre is, much like George Smiley. The pace doesn't get faster, just more intense. Nothing flashy. Not a lot of violence, mostly intelligent, deliberately built suspense. There is some action and violence of course, certainly not enough for today’s “Fast and Furious” crowd. The Hong Kong bit where Ricki Tarr meets Irina and of course, the Brno escapade where Jim gets his back shot up. A lot of action there.
The beautiful thing about Le Carre though is he is a first class novelist rather than a ‘crime writer’ type. I mean no insult to the crime writers here, but Le Carre is absolutely invested in setting his scenes lushly, with building characters slowly, layer by layer, and revealing their true natures just as subtly.
I’ve just finished Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and please don’t laugh, but it choked me up. It was full of page turning suspense all right but when it was over, there was no big Ah Ha!  Just as George names the characters who really had known all along who the mole was - but didn’t want to see it - we the reader (this reader anyway) realize we have known it all along too. Who else could it have been?
And, because of who he is and the relationships, Le Carre has built for him, we are deeply disappointed too. Not in the ending, but in the man. I won’t say who Gerald is, just in case you’re not going to read the book; I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The bit that made me cry? I won’t spoil that for you either. But if it touches you, as it touched me, I’d love to hear about it. This is another one I can't wait to see and sincerely hoping the filmmakers have got it right. Certainly the cast is top notch; mostly fabulous British actors who never play a false note. It will need a more mature, more thoughtful audience to appreciate it, I think. 
To whet your appetite, take a look at the trailer. I think it strikes just the right chord. Fingers crossed!





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