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The Secret Pilgrim

Narrated by: Michael Jayston
Series: Smiley, Book 8
Length: 13 hrs and 6 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (24 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Excellently read finale for Smiley

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!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Another great book from Le Carre

A more varied and diversified story compared to Tinker Taylor of Smileys People, but still intense and thrilling. A great book!

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Brilliant, just brilliant

What did you like about this audiobook?

Brilliant, just brilliant.

How has the book increased your interest in the subject matter?

Absolutely, John Le Carre has always done that.

Does the author present information in a way that is interesting and insightful, and if so, how does he achieve this?

They were fascinating & scary times to live through in real time and Le Carre's novels set the tone of the times so well.

What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?

Nothing!

Do you have any additional comments?

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.

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  • J. Wakeman
  • 03-28-15

A real mishmash!

To call this part of the Smiley series is scraping the barrel! As others have said a set ramblings, that may or may not create a coherent whole!?
Very disappointed.
Narration as always top notch!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Jon
  • 02-02-13

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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • peter
  • 05-27-13

No Secret...

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.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Misspelt
  • 07-07-19

Getting dull

The early books were page turners, start to finish. This however is a minor spy telling his myriad stories as Smiley reminisces. It is a book of short stories in reality and not good for it. The narration is excellent and aside from wishing to get through all the books, being so close to the end, I wouldn't have bothered with this. Disappointed.

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  • Paul
  • 06-19-19

A great book

One of my favourite books in the George Smiley series. A good reading of an excellent book

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Kieran Horgan
  • 03-25-19

Not a smiley book

This is a book in the smiley book series, but smiley is hardly in it. It concentrates on a man called Ned, no surname . It’s a collection of short story. It’s ok but it is not a smiley book

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • KaeLaw
  • 10-01-18

Such a Disappointment

Would someone please tutor Mr Le Carre in the art of the stage whisper. We're not all wearing earbuds! I'm sure this is a great story, given that I loved actually reading some of his other books. However, he ruined this one for me so much that I could not continue listening.

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  • Jan
  • 03-31-18

lovely philosophical short spy stories

great short stories with juice link to hold things together. smiley does make an appearance. well written, beautifully read.

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  • Gareth
  • 01-11-18

This is a good one!

This is one of my Favourite John Le Carre so far. It’s Episodic and it’s got Smiley in.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Geoff
  • 10-29-17

Structurally unsound

Unlike most of the author’s works, this was not a conventional spying novel: it was the reminiscences of a member of the Service sprinkled with anecdotes from his career. Personally, I didn’t think it worked as a concept. And unusually disappointing novel from otherwise accomplished author.

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  • Shawn Pickard
  • 07-04-18

Alright, I guess.

Kind of read like made up memoirs. A bunch of short stories mashed into a classroom lecture type of scene.