Tinker

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor,

Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief.

-English counting song, published 1695

Someone in the British secret service, at its highest levels, is a spy…

Published in 1974, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is, in my opinion, one of the greatest spy novels of all time. An intellectual thriller, John le Carré’s seventh novel not only cemented his reputation as a great spy novelist (he did that ten years prior with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold) but showed the depths that such work could achieve. No trashy James Bond paperback here, with all that gunplay and innuendo, no, this was a book that opened up the inner sanctums of official lying, official stealing. Not daring-do, but thinking made exciting, memory made thrilling.

The English espionage novel has a long and illustrious history with writers such as Kipling, Conrad, Maugham and Greene on the literary end, and John Buchan, Talbot Mundy and Ian Fleming on the pulpier end, though they are certainly not without their merits. One thing that sets many of them aside is the fact that they performed these duties during various emergencies and wars. Maugham during WWI, Greene during WWII, and le Carré during the Cold War, lending all of their efforts in the genre a depth that can seldom be matched.

Due to my love of this book, I propose a book club for Ordinary Times. We shall read, in three installments, le Carré’s masterpiece of a spy story. Please join me, readers. The book is 40+ years old, so no worries about spoilers. It is set in a different country, with different politics, at a different time, so any current political issues should be left in the cold.

So, please, join me here in a two weeks to discuss the first part of three.  We shall call that by its cover name: Tailor.

 

(A note from the editors: If you are interested in read the book and do not own a copy, please purchase it directly from Amazon at the link embedded in the post above, or here at Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and help support the site! — BL)

 

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19 thoughts on “Tinker

  1. Sounds like fun. I read the book, but it has been so long that I have forgotten most of it.
    Question: Where would you put Len Deighton in your pantheon of British spy writers?

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      • It has been eons since I read any Deighton. I was just surprised that you failed to mention him since you knew so much about the others including Buchen and Mundy who I had never heard of until today. I would probably recommend starting at the beginning with the Ipcress File. I also remember enjoying the movies, but that too was eons ago and they may not have aged well.

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  2. This has been on my should-read list for some time. I’ve only ever done one book club-ish type group read, and it was a blast. I’ll give it a try.

    Like Vikram, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep up at present, though an audiobook might be worth a shot.

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  3. Awesome. I just bought the book (though the link provided, diverting some of my retail spending back to the site’s maintenance fund and you should too) and I’m looking forward to reading it.

    This is one of those books that has always been on my “I really ought to read that someday” list, the one that has a bunch of titles that it seems like lots of other people have read and you’re ever so mildly embarrassed to have not read yourself. Well, no more!

    Thanks for picking up the book club football, @aaron-david!

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  4. The only problem with Tinker Tailor is that it is only the first book in the Quest for Karla trilogy.

    (good lord, has it really been 25 years since I read those books? How did i get so damn old?)

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  5. See ya in 2 weeks. le Carre is one of my favorite authors, and this is a good chance to reread this gem.

    As an aside, I recently discussed the film version, starring Gary Oldham, with some people. It bored most of them to tears, while I loved it. Is that because I read the book? There is so little action in one of Cornwell’s books that they must be extremely hard to dramatize.

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    • I would say, yes, for knowing the book allows the connections that are slightly missed in that film version to be mildly glossed over. But, as much as I love Gary Oldham, I rather dislike that version, partially due to the BBC miniseries version being sooooooooo good, and partially due that version having the Tree as an actor in it (I call Colin Firth the Tree for he seemingly has the acting ability of a chunk of wood.)

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  6. The novel’s plot, a complex web of deception that’s lasted for many years, is really dense and convoluted in a necessary way. I definitely recommend cutting it up into smaller chunks, because it can be easy to lose one’s way, and will help to talk about it as we go along.

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  7. I’ve always been one of Smiley’s people. I’m in. It might be fun to also compare the BBC mini series and the relatively recent remake with Oldham and Firth

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  8. Got my library copy. I start work next week so will have lots of train time to read. Per Chris’s comment above and how little I liked “The Bourne Identity” (gave up 150-so pages in), I don’t know if this is for me or if I’ll stick with it but I’ll give it a go.

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