George Smiley is one of the most brilliantly realised characters in British fiction. Bespectacled, tubby, eternally middle-aged, and deceptively ordinary, he has a mind like a steel trap and is said to possess 'the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin'.
The Berlin Wall is down, the Cold War is over, but the world's second oldest profession is very much alive. Smiley accepts an invitation to dine with the eager young men and women of the Circus' latest intake; and over coffee and brandy, by flickering firelight, he beguilingly offers them his personal thoughts on espionage past, present, and future. In doing so, he prompts one of his former Circus colleagues into a searching examination of his own eventful secret life.
©1991 David Cornwell (P)2014 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd.
Cathy Bergin, Dundalk, Ireland
This collection of short stories is primarily for the Le Carre completist, referring as it does to characters and events from his earlier work, mainly occurring in the Karla trilogy and The Russia House, the full significance of which would be lost on a first time Le Carre reader. The structure is a little laboured, relying on Smiley's reminiscences to a graduating class of new secret service recruits to trigger corresponding memories of the narrator Ned's experiences of life as a spy which are a little too conveniently packaged into extended anecdotes. I'd imagine this creaky device would grate on the written page - it's certainly a sad retreat from the ingenious interweaving timelines of Tinker Tailor -but it's a tribute to Michael Jayston's brilliant performance that Le Carre just about gets away with it. Considering the several unforgettable character studies Le Carre had created by this point in his career Ned emerges as rather colourless and derivative, an ersatz Peter Guillam unfortunately lacking Peter's charisma. The stories themselves are undeniably entertaining but appear just a touch too neat and easily resolved to the die-hard Le Carre fan, a sort of M16 Tales of the Unexpected. They also show a tendency to recycle plot devices, character types and motifs from earlier, better novels. (A trivial but telling example is the remarkable coincidence of several of his jaded heroes in this and other later novels having tricky relationships with estranged sons who are invariably called Adrian - did neither Le Carre nor his editor notice the repetition?) Ironically, considering his reputation as the master Cold War chronicler, the fall of the Berlin Wall may have come at just the right time to prompt him to find fresh themes and settings. Michael Jayston works wonders with the occasionally threadbare material to give one of his best performances as a Le Carre narrator, which is high praise considering his many fantastic readings of Le Carre's work, and is the main reason for my high overall rating for this audiobook. He approaches the material with utter conviction and succeeds wonderfully in not only creating dozens of distinct characters but in setting a haunting tone of regret and loss that I don't think would have fully emerged from the page alone. He also deserves a medal for his sensitive treatment of what could have been an excruciatingly embarrassing sex scene in the second story, bravo!
Brilliant, just brilliant.
Absolutely, John Le Carre has always done that.
They were fascinating & scary times to live through in real time and Le Carre's novels set the tone of the times so well.
I have really enjoyed Michael Jayston's reading of all the Le Carre novels and I am following him to other authors I may not have read in hard copy books, but will now listen to.
Written in a unique format: George Smiley memoirs via short stories about one of his loyal protégé, Ned and his endeavors to do good in the world. Pact with illuminated thoughts, full of substance, not an easy read. The best ones never are. Its conclusion is sobering: the Cold War after all may have been lost by the right people and won by the wrong. After defeating communism, now we are going to have to set about defeating capitalism that has turned sour; yet the Evil is not in the system, but in the man. Michael Jayston is superb.
"The Last of the Summer Wine"
Not a contination of the Smiley series, nor really a novel as such; more a series of vignettes neatly inserted into Smiley's back story. Most welcome in a 'hello old friend' kind of way. Michael Jayston is a brilliant narrator and seems to hit exactly the right note for Le Carre's books.
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