Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John le Carre)

by Srikanth Mantravadi

I have had a longer than usual history with this book.I had purchased the entire Karla trilogy in one of my trips to the bookstore but like it always happens with slightly bulkier books, not to mention whimsical reading habits, I glossed over them for other books.A friend at college then recommended le Carre.But funnily enough I didn’t jump onto the bandwagon with Tinker Tailor but ordered The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and downed it in a gulp.It was a peculiar reading experience, that’s what le Carre’s books seem to be. They are an acquired taste; not easily amiable or elegant or dazzling. le Carre does not even pretend that he is writing a thriller although he is and the writing for the most part is constricted and prosaic if not droll.There are some inspired situational observations that Carre throws in but that’s about it.So having had a strange expeience with TSWCIFtC, I tarried picking up TTSS.

Then Alfredson’s celebrated movie came along which renewed my interest. The idea was to read the book before watching the movie (That’s always the case isn’t it?) But that couldn’t happen due to work on campus. So I watched the movie and found it very enigmatic and puzzling. I could make out that only parts of the labyrinthine plot were put up on screen. That is when I restarted TTSS (Oh forgot to tell you; I had already read around a 100 pages soon after TSWCIFtC before becoming disillusioned with the dry writing style of Carre!) I am happy plodded through it. It is a spy novel unlike any other I have read. All others are predominantly action oriented affairs but TTSS takes a purely cerebral approach to espionage.It is what happens after your Jason Bournes and James Bonds have returned home with the information (well not exactly but somewhat like that). It is time to piece it all together. That is what George Smiley, a disgraced spy who is now brought back to uncover the mole working at the top echelons of the MI6, has to do. It is a long drawn process – poring over files and records, meeting up with friends, interviewing people discreetly – and le Carre makes it as tedious as it sounds for us. But all said and done there is a mesmerising quality inhere to this meticulousness. The protagonists are fleshed out and given real emotions. Smiley cuts a lonely figure dealing with a personal crisis while trying to shore up his country’s espionage establishment.It is also shot at redemption which when it does come is doused in such melancholy that it becomes anti-climactic. The greatest triumph of this novel is the way it treats the mole also. He (That much I grant you;Its a male!) is not condemned as a traitor or a villain but is given a motivation that is relatable and can be empathised with.
Although le Carre doggedly underscores themes of loyalty and fidelity he nevers paints those who betray these principles as villains.TTSS is a masterful work that is painstakingly plotted. Not an easy by any means. In fact a tough read will not make your heart race but might just make it sing at the end.