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Aaron David

A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    First of all, I am at sea regarding who to trust. Both in terms of who is loyal to Queen and Country, who is loyal to the Circus (which I presume is code for MI-6), whether the Circus is working autonomously or in concert with HM Government, and of course who is a reliable narrator, most especially Tarr.

    Secondly, the feeling of being plopped down in media res is a bit overwhelming. WTF did Control do in Czechoslovakia? Sounds like whatever the op was, they shat the bed, and Smiley was one of the heads that rolled as a result. But beyond that, it’s murky and since these are oh-so-British characters, their pride seems to stop them from actually saying anything. (Is this a reference to events in a different Le Carré novel?)

    Finally, I’m delighted with many gorgeous turns of phrase:

    There are always a dozen reasons for doing nothing. … There is only one reason for doing something. And that’s because you want to.”

    And he noticed as a generality, a thing to store away, that people with bad backs take long strides; it was something to do with balance.

    Middle children weep longer than their brothers and sisters.

    Smells of autumn filled the car, a full moon was shining, strands of mist hung over open fields, and the cold was irresistible. Smiley wondered how old Guilliam was and guessed forty, but in that light he could have been an undergraduate sculling on the river; he moved the gear lever with a long flowing movement as if he were passing it through water.

    Gorgeous writing, that. Perceptive and illustrative.

    Also, can someone help me out on one bit of jargon: “lamplighters.” I’ve figured out most of the rest of the jargon from context, but this one is elusive to me.Report

    • LeCarre invented most of this jargon, though some of it has entered the language, notably “mole” for “highly places double agent”. Though, to LeCarre, an agent is someone recruited from outside the organization, say, a janitor at a secure facility that sells information.

      There’s a pretty good glossary here.Report

    • And if you’re frustrated with British spies that never say anything, try these instead.

      Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      To the group: are references to foregoing events in these characters’ (or the agency’s) lives in this novel references to the events of previous novels, or does everything in this world begin here (in whatever tense it’s being told)? Is this the first of the Smiley novels?Report

      • Avatar Aaron David says:

        No, the character is in several of le Carre novels. He is the lead in the authors first two books and has small but important parts in Spy Who Came In From the Cold and A Small Town in Germany. That said, we are talking about Smiley and the other characters only in the placement of this book. The events talked about in the novel are only in the history of the novel, not in the history of the character outside Tinker, Tailor.

        Does that make sense? Confused myself in there…Report

  2. Avatar J_A says:

    I know this sounds very Kimmi, but I’m a close friend of an employee from “the Company”. We met at the individual’s mother’s birthday party and we bonded through a mutual love of Geography in what was otherwise a very boring party.

    The employee works “abroad” so we see each other once or twice a year, but we keep in regular contact because we are talking about an very uncommon individual with interesting quirks. We discuss fusion power, music, languages, wild life, tons of geographical trivia, and geopolitics. The employee sets the subjects. I never ask anything, just follow whatever is shared, be it river deltas, climate change, or the latest adventures in the filed and how many times shots have been exchanged (more than zero, less than ten).

    It was six months before the employee came out of the professional closet for me (parents still thinks the employee works in the garment industry, you know, one of those foreign places that stole good ‘Murican jobs).

    Long story short, these individuals do have a very peculiar life, and a very strange way of seeing the world. You don’t make a Company employee. You have to be born one.

    EDIT: I have the feeling the individual did a full checkout about me before coming out of the closet. I didn’t share it with anybody, not even with my partner. The individual came out to the partner some months laterReport

  3. Avatar James K says:

    Its interesting to see everything get set up, but I don’t have a lot to say at this point.Report

  4. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    I had not read the book before, but I have watched the BBC miniseries. In consequence, I hear George Smiley’s voice as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am a shallow person.

    On a different note, there are a lot of cultural assumptions that can make it hard for an American to keep up. I am curious how people understood this snippet:

    Going to bed, they could glimpse his lonely shadow through the plastic roof of the fives court as the Rhino tirelessly attacked the concrete wall.

    Do you already know what a “fives court” is, or figure it out of context, or pass over it in perfect mystification? Also relevant is which dialect of English is native to you.Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      I have a reasonable approximation of what a fives court is, good enough to be relevant; and my native dialect is Eastern Canadian, which means I started reading British books just about the same time I started reading American (ie when I started reading).Report

    • I’ve read about fives, but reading about different sports and games is something I did a lot of when I was younger. I used to know the rules of a lot of different card games that I’ve never played and in all likelihood never will.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I know what a fives court is strictly from reading novels about English public schools (such as the one in that scene). Fives seems to be a game known only to rich English people and those of us who read about them too often.Report

  5. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I’m trying to get caught up!Report

  6. Avatar Aaron David says:

    The paranoia that pervades each and every character is fascinating. Smiley looking out the windows at the booksellers and spotting Guillam, ducking out the back. Keeping little splinters in a door to make sure that no one else has been in since you left. And so on.

    I am a context clue reader. I almost never look up a word to find out its meaning, instead prefer to learn it by osmosis.* The jargon in books like this is bread and butter to me, reading wise. Few things I like better than feeling like an insider and getting the feel of the language that pervades is the best way.

    *This has lead me to mispronounce almost every word that I don’t use in casual conversation, and my wife to be constantly correcting me. At least she knows what I am trying to get across. I hope.Report

  7. Avatar Maribou says:

    Finished part I just today (but am moving rapidly into part II).

    Aside from agreeing with many of the comments above, I was interested in how much British conversational culture is shown through dialogue (no one in the Circus ever says “oh, that was a terrible thing” or “I barely escaped with my life”) even as the narration / Smiley’s inner thoughts reveal how intense all these lightly-told events actually were.

    And also, as much as I enjoy the characterizations, it seemed fairly obvious that some of the characters were written from a “lived in” space of empathy (eg Roach, Haydon, Smiley) while others were written from an “observed” space that was sometimes sympathetic, sometimes almost a caricature (and almost always funny) but not really… internalized. At first I thought this was a male/female dichotomy but it really wasn’t, it’s just that all the woman characters (so far) go into the “observed” pile. There’s lots of male characters that go in there too. Not necessarily a bad thing – probably almost a requirement in a tale with so many actors – but it was … jarring. Took me out of the story a few times (whereas in general I find it a very immersive story).Report

    • Prideaux is an interesting case. He’s the sort of character LeCarre generally has a lot of sympathy for, but we only see him through other character’s eyes. Largely Roach, who understands far less than we do about what he sees.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        Yes. I just read a scene where we’re seeing Prideaux through someone’s eyes who was observing someone else’s grief for him (trying to avoid 2nd part spoilers) and it really got to me. Perhaps more so *because* of the refraction.Report