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David Cornwell, better known to us all as John le Carré has published many books in his lifetime, and those featuring George Smiley have always been popular. This book although a novel as such is really more of a collection of interconnecting short stories.
As Ned calls upon Smiley to give an informal speech to the latest group to pass out of the spy school at Sarratt, not only is he pleasantly surprised that George accepts, but also that he is rather good at it. As Smiley starts upon his speech, so certain elements start Ned off personally reminiscing to himself, as he looks back upon his career in MI6, and so we follow him through various operations.
Due to the format of this, which is really quite episodic, so this will not perhaps appeal to all of Carré’s fans, but it does cover the Cold War years and reminds us of the sort of things that went on, and still do so, not only amongst our intelligence community but the world over.
From his first proper assignment where he becomes wary of a man following an entourage, so we see how our perceptions of what people are likely to do are not always correct. With defections, heightened paranoia and mistakes as well as corruption, so we are reminded that at the end of the day spies are just the same as the rest of us, and suffer the same delusions, make the same mistakes, can be greedy, and can at times be a bit careless.
Making for quite an enjoyable read, so this can easily be imagined as a series of stories that could be easily adapted for TV, with hour long episodes, and in these tales, we can see references to other books by the author, as well as ideas that have been taken further in novels published after this one. In all this does make for a good read, but I would not say that this is the best by this author, although still very good.
Another great read from Le Carré, every now and then I have that urge to just read more and more of his work, in the last month I have read 3 of his books, 2 of which I have read before and I can't help but absolutely worship, his prose are on a whole other level and I just can’t get enough of his work.
This was the last George Smiley book that I hadn’t read, I also believe that this was supposed to be Smiley’s last outing… Or it was for 27 years, until The Legacy of Spies was released in 2017 (which is one of my favourite books ever). So, it does feel rather apt that this is where I finish his tale.
I am extremely saddened to have completed the Smiley series, but as I have done so already, I will continue to delve back in and read and read again because to me Smiley is the best Spy master that never truly lived. So, this review is somewhat of a love letter to George, thank you, you immensely clever little man!
I now feel I owe it to Smiley and Le Carré to indulge myself on his other great works of fiction… Until I return
This entry in the George Smiley series is unusual in that the man himself appears and plays an important part, but is not the main character. That place is occupied by his protégé, who over the course of the separate but related stories progresses from being a callow new recruit in the Secret Service to a seasoned operative. The disparate and very readable tales seem to offer a vivid depiction of what life was like as a Cold War soldier, carrying out assignments either in the UK or overseas. Recommended for all le Carré fans.
John le Carre's retrospective look at the career of a spy almost "put out to grass" in his new role as teacher and mentor of the next generation is written in an entirely different way to his classics of Timer, Taylor and so on which feature the seemingly immortal George Smiley as their main character and which have a beginning, middle and end and a complex plot of intrigue to follow throughout. The Secret Pilgrim is a series of acts of reminiscence conducted at a dinner party where Smiley is present as the guest of honour, giving the benefit of his many years of experience to the "new boys". His invitation to the party comes from Ned, the narrator of the reminiscences and himself the product of the Smiley generation of spies. It may not capture and hold you in the same way as Tinker, Taylor or others but is nevertheless an excellent book and a fitting ending, in many ways, to a series which has lasted way beyond the Cold War years it portrays.
"The Secret Pilgrim" is another fine BBC radio drama production of a John Le Carré novel made into an audiobook. As is usual for the series it is immaculately acted. My only quibble about this and "The Honourable Schoolboy" is that despite being known as part the Smiley Series, in both plays Smiley is peripheral rather than the central character, others are more central to the plot. Unlike many of the other plays it has an episodic feel, with a collection of reminiscences which raise questions about the nature of the secret world and the way its operatives lead a rather schizophrenic existence. As usual it is thought-provoking but the tension tends to drop at times.
Forget the 'George Smiley' tag - it's just used to knit together a series of short stories. When the book was written, we had just entered the post iron-curtain era - so that, although the spy/spymaster profession may not have changed greatly, the circumstances of the 'new era' most certainly have. This book wraps-up the 'good-old-days' of George Smiley in a series of reminiscences.
I really enjoyed the book read by Michael Jayston. I thought nearly all the stories were really good. I was disappointed when it came to an end. Incidentally can I put a shout out for Mr Jayston. I think his work is superb. I don't know how he does it - particularly the Hon Schoolboy.