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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.
Ned, a bit-part player in earlier books, takes centre-stage here. While listening to a speech by George Smiley, he begins thinking about his life in the service. The episodes take him from terrified rookie to skilled interrogater and although each could stand alone as a short story, a theme runs through them. They show the trajectory of his life from awkward virgin to unfaithful husband, He’s never just a spy. He’s also a husband, lover, father, friend, but it’s impossible to fulfill any of these roles when the service has your soul, if not your heart.
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.
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 is a riveting collection of tales tied together by George Smiley and the narrator, a valedictory look back over the Cold War. They consider their position after the defeat of state communism and ponder the next problem - how to defeat capitalism. Eighteen years after le Carre published this book the problem of how to deal with the more noxious aspects of capitalism is more pressing still.
The narrator Ned from the Russia House references the words of GS to incidents in his life working for the Circus. This book was even more enjoyable than when I read it upon its original publication. The moral dilemmas that face Ned as he grows older reflect an understandable weariness that grows in proportion to his years of service in the secret world. Is Ned an alter ego of George? A fascinating read as ever
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.
I’m reading all John Le Carré’s books; having already read The Little Drummer Girl in the 80s. I started again with Tinker Tailor at Christmas and have been reading them back to back since. So, it was only a matter of time before I came to read this book. I loved the title of The Secret Pilgrim and was really looking forward to it, especially as it’s one of the Smiley series, but I didn’t realise it is effectively a collection of short stories. Le Carré has threaded them together well around Smiley, delivering a lecture to trainee spies, providing a recurring touchstone for the narrator. Having just finished the Karla trilogy, I was expecting the sort of plot and character development that is typical of Le Carré so I was disappointed with the structure of The Secret Pilgrim and I missed the thrill of getting into the detail of a single narrative. That said, the stories are great and even in the shorter form, John Le Carré is a first class story teller.