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’.
This novel, set in London in the late 1950s, finds Smiley engaged in the humdrum job of security vetting. But when a Foreign Office civil servant commits suicide after an apparently unproblematic interview, Smiley is baffled. Refusing to believe that Fennan shot himself soon after making a cup of cocoa and asking the exchange to telephone him in the morning, Smiley decides to investigate – only to uncover a murderous conspiracy with its roots in his own secret wartime past.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By eatough1999 on 27-01-15
A refreshing change
First venture into the world of George Smiley, good to start at the very inception of his character.
The 4 * is because despite the narrator being amiable there was at times difficulty in distinguishing which character was speaking. You have to really 'listen' intently to the narrative to follow the plot. Perhaps because of the style of narration I found myself rewinding the story quite a bit on numerous occasions. This said, I did enjoy the story and am happily listening to the next installment read by the same chap. I've tuned into him now!
George Smiley - not quite sure what to make of him yet, he reminds me a bit of C J Sansoms Shardlake character; beguiling but with an underlying intrigue, I like him, I hope that he develops as a character throughout the books, that we get to know more about him.
The length of the story is just right, I generally enjoy 20hr plus novels but it has been quite refreshing to partake of this short book.
Recommended - yes
An easy listen - not necessarily and certainly not for when you are tired.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
By Mark H on 04-05-16
A book that launched a career
This 1961 novel was Le Carre’s first. It was an instant success and introduced the literary world to George Smiley. It contrasted starkly with the action packed, ruthless, gun totting macho heroes found in James Bond stories. Instead, it portrayed spies as bureaucratic types with academic rather than physical prowess. Smiley’s world is often mundane, even boring, but also peppered with flashes of inspiration and luck. Similarly, his colleagues are not drawn from an elite SAS team, but seem to have all the normal foibles of normal people. If Fleming’s Bond was a hare then LeCarre’s counterpart of Smiley was definitely a tortoise.
On the face of it, Le Carre’s first book does not sound as if it would compete with well established best-selling Ian Fleming and that is the point, it doesn’t. In spite of both authors writing about secret agents they are from very different stables. What Le Carre does is to provide an insight into a different kind of spy from Bond. And he does it in a way that hardly requires any suspension of disbelief. Smiley’s world oozes with the verisimilitude of real spies from that era, Burgess, McLean, Blunt etc., people living apparently ‘normal’ lives, but with dark secrets. Furthermore, Le Carre conjures up his story using outstanding prose that makes you want to keep on listening. It is like missing your stop on the underground because the conversation you are eavesdropping on is just too enthralling, even if it is seemingly about everyday things. So, if you like a well told story that happens to be about spies then you should like this book.
Finally, full marks for Michael Jayston who give a great performance and makes the characters come alive.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful