November 12, 2010

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Oh, John Le Carre, you are good, very, very good.  I am terribly sorry that this program doesn’t let me make accent marks, for it is not a lack of caring that your name is unadorned.  You are a stellar writer, and I wish I could give you your due by spelling your name properly.  I should also add that I love making accent marks.  Besides, after twelve years of French, I know when they are necessary.  When to use the plus-que-parfait, well don’t ask.  I was always better at accents, by voice or a pen.

Anyhoo, to dear George Smiley, the ne-plus-ultra (more Francais!) spy of spies, you are the cat’s pajamas.  Another aside here, did you know that this has nothing to do with felines sporting flannel?  Rather, it was in reference to a tailor in the 1700s, named Katz who made the finest clothes in the land.  Fancy that!  As for George in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, after being forced into early retirement, he is called back into service on an uber top secret mission to discover the identity of a very high ranking mole in the British service, one planted by his Russian counterpart Karla decades earlier.  In Smiley’s People, George is called reluctantly into service, yet again, with the murder of an old friend and a mystery that may lead him straight to his arch nemesis, Karla.  Beat of drums!

Rather unlike the films I associate with spies, even ones I like (Jason Bourne, anyone?), and the reason I hadn’t thought to read the books before, the story is utterly lacking in flash.  There are no violent car chases, spies with super powers, or romantic liaisons among the rock hard ab crowd.  Quite the contrary, they cough from too many cigarettes, have grey hair, paunches, and failing marriages.  Where they do not fail is in their utter brilliance, patience, and attention to detail.  These are the men and women I want on my side in a crisis.  They are extremely dedicated to the service (save one) and work long hours in hardly glamorous conditions to meet that end.

Not to say that the lack of glamor makes the writing any less engaging.  John Le Carre is a fine storyteller, and his characters feel as real as the cat sitting on my lap.  I could not put these books down, using any excuse to sit and read a page or two or thirty.  Highly recommended!

Should you decide to forgo reading the stories, the BBC versions are terrific and available on Netflix, though Smiley’s People is easier to follow than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (like the book, there are many details, characters, and time shifts – be patient and pay attention).  The hubster and I saw Smiley’s People a couple of years before I decided to read the novels, so even without the benefit of knowing the story, I found it no less exciting or interesting.  As well, it gave me the picture of Alec Guinness as George, for which I am ever so grateful.  Those glasses, that voice!