Monday, 10 October 2011

Book Review - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I've had limited exposure to spy fiction, in book form. What I've read of James Bond's adventure failed to impress, and my solitary Ludlum experience was a solidly written but utterly empty one. Then came le Carre's intense The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, an inensly lonely and savagely tragic affair that stayed with me after it finished. Even now, the cold intensity of the finale has the power to make me shiver.

So it's with no modest expectations that I finally pick Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, buoyed by the newly released movie to finally do so. TTSS concerns the efforts George Smiley, a retired member of the UK's secret service, in uncovering a spy that  has dug it's way into the very core of the secret service's command. With the help of his assisstant, Peter Guillam, he plunges into the past in order to discover where the corruption happened and who did it.

The book doesn't exactly get off to a thunderous start, as it quickly becomes mired in set-up. Towards the beginning le Carre's style is very much a drawback, although it later becomes one of the novel's greatest strengths. It's not clear who does what, exactly, and what is going on much of the time. le Carre writes with a kind of assumed knowledge that makes the world he writes of feel really big and complex, but also incredibly unclear and confusing. When you do know the world it becomes a tool with which he subtly characterises and it even conveys a sense of poignancy through it's distance. During only one section of the first part of the novel did I feel myself really drawn in, and that is always going to be a big difficulty of the novel's.

Patience, however, has a rich reward here: TTSS is something of a masterful novel. It's not exactly fast pace soon serves to draw the reader in and keep them guessing. Through a range of characters we go, getting a very distinct impression of most despite (or rather, because of) le Carre's de-emphasis on characterisation. Many of the scenes in this book are one person telling another a story, and no one is really trustworthy nor is any account strictly true - it's the nature of the novel that he manages to take small moments and make them seem like the world is turned upside down. There's no action in this book at all, mainly descriptions of action, yet as a thrillers it's incredibly effective. Everything understated and little is presented in that dramatic a fashion. Built-up to dramatically, sure, but executed with an understatedness that has more power than any shouty dramatic moment could have.

Truth is, I'd reccomend TTSS easily despite the slow beginning. Once I had finished it, I immediately ordered the sequels, and I can't wait to get my mitts on them and find out where the story goes from here. And if that isn't the highest praise I can give a book, I don't know what is.

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