Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – John le Carré (1974)

by Chingiz Ismailov

Genre fiction, spy novels, fantasy and the like, perhaps suited to the umbrella term of “escape fiction” have never held a place in my heart. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy isn’t a mere espionage thriller of the standard cut. It uses the genre to go beyond, to transcend, and ask questions with difficult answers.

This is the first le Carré novel I’ve ever read. His novels are often contrasted with the James Bond series by critics, and I will do so here because it demonstrates with ease the flavour of le Carré’s very special brand of espionage thrillers. George Smiley, the protagonist is the polar opposite of James Bond. Pudgy, short, old, with a marriage on the rocks. Instead of leaping from helicopters and away from explosions and spouting one-liners, the characters (the majority of whom are middle-aged men) sit (or stand) and talk. The look at each other, and try to read each other. Tinker, Tailor reads like a commentary of a game of poker.

It’s not just a diverting thriller. It questions the morality of what these spies do and why they do it. Indeed, I often asked myself why. They don’t seem to be spying “for Great Britain”. It feels personal. And it is. This book left me thinking, asking questions, and perhaps it’ll do the same for you. A dark, paranoid, twisted, yet thoughtful tale of espionage, from the Raymond Chandler of the genre.

“The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal.”