And here we are, the final section of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. And it is a doozy, no? The interrogations have moved up several notches at this point, both in the closeness to Gerald of the questioned and the stakes involved in the questioning. We have the actual discussion with Jim Prideaux of Testify and how it failed. And we have Toby, little Toby Esterhase, to tell us where the safe house is, how to operate its mechanics and who runs it. Rikki Tarr is sent on a mission to bait a trap in that house, to get Polyakov and Gerald to meet in said house.
Prideaux’ tale is both sad and terrifying. As he relates the failure of the mission, it is clear from the tale that it starts bad and goes downhill from there. He is immediately watched getting to Czecho, which is fascinatingly described. A whole army of watchers, constantly moving around him, changing clothes to fool him. From which he narrowly escapes, only to fall right into a deeper trap. From the interrogation and his description of it, clearly they knew all about him. The target was faked and they had little interest in asking him about his present networks, caring only to try to find out if he or Control knew who the traitor was. Jim is clearly still angry about the whole thing (rightly so!), distrustful of Smiley’s motives, and wishing to put it behind him.
Toby Esterhase’s little talk, constantly interrupted with Smiley’s concerns of counter espionage actions, allows us to see the inner workings of the highest level of the Circus, and the distrust among its members. For while Toby is canny about giving too much information, he quickly sees that George is now running a very important show. And so he gives out the secrets of the Witchcraft safe house. Meanwhile, Rikki is in Paris to send a message to Alleline on how he knows a traitor is in the Circus, precipitating a meeting for Gerald.
All along we have been given hints on who the traitor is, who is unfaithful to the crown. Which, in my view, is the central point of the novel. It is not solely a spy novel, but rather a meditation on the nature of faithfulness and what cheating is. To be cheated on is devastating, your loved one putting you aside for another without your knowledge. And gaining that knowledge is painful, simply for what it tells us about ourselves.
Tinker, Tailor was written in the aftermath of two events in the author’s life. The first was massive, a betrayal of both the English people in general, and Le Carré in specific. Kim Philby was one of the leading lights of British intelligence during the cold war. In 1963 Philby defected to the KGB, taking the closest held secrets of a service that had been trading wits with the Russians for hundreds of years, destroying many lives in the process. One of those lives was Le Carré’s, for he was one of the betrayed. The other event was more personal, but just as important to our story. In 1971, Le Carré and his first wife divorced. And without getting into the prurient details, Le Carré was intimately involved in cheating from the wrong side. This seems to have lead to his one non-genre novel, The Naive and Sentimental Lover and to inform our plot. This is a novel of betrayal, of cheating. A story of faithlessness. Looking at the society that raised you and finding it so unworthy that you cast it off for an enemy and rival is not something that one takes lightly. And for that matter, neither is cheating on your partner, to whom you pledged “’till death do us part.” In the end, George Smiley is the one faithful person.
Called back to duty, using his ferocious memory and helped by the a loyal cast of those whom Gerald had made sure were no longer around, Smiley has run down the traitor. Constantly aided by everyone wanting to shield George from his wife’s unfaithfulness, the traitor is no less than Bill Haydon.
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I would like to thank Mike Schilling and Maribou for helping put this whole thing together. It has been a lot of fun, and I, for one, couldn’t do it without their help. And to all of you who read along with us, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
(Image by danxoneil )