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Aaron David

A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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  1. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    Was the real Kim Philby caught and interrogated like Gerald? Wikipedia says yes, in Beruit, where security was kept loose — suspiciously loose, to allow him to escape to the Soviet Union and thus avoid a public trial that would have been embarrassing to MI6 and caused it even further damage. If that’s true, it would represent the triumph of the bureaucratic survival impulse: the institution must first protect itself, and only thereafter does it turn its attention to somehow fulfilling its mission.

    I was not aware of Le Carré’s personal indiscretions; this novel is deeply brooding, which if the OP’s linkage of the two events is correct, suggests that Le Carré had come to deeply regret what he had done. But also an attempt to dig into the mind of Philby, a man Le Carré had admired greatly, a man Le Carré had looked to as a hero of sorts.

    Which leaves us with an epistolary search for, and offer of, justification for betrayal. A novel whose story is told nearly entirely in the form of flashbacks: excepting the penultimate chapter, it seems the only live action is Smiley wandering about London to talk to spooks, most of whom are retired out of the game, and Jim Prideaux recruiting schoolboys to scout for him.

    Speaking of which, did Le Carré ever make use of Roach again in later novels? It would tickle my fancy if the lad — plucky and loyal within the small-stakes context of his school — should have grown up in Le Carré’s universe to pursue a career as part of the next generation of Circus operatives.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    This is my third or fourth time through the book, but, probably because I was reading very carefully to do the recap, the first time I understood the full depth of Karla’s plot. Certainly the exchange of information between what Witchcraft provides the Circus and what the Circus sends back to keep the pipeline open is asymmetric: the fact that the mole controls the latter guarantees that. But the really important asymmetry is this:

    The Circus thinks Polyakov is a double agent working for them. In fact, Polyakov is a triple agent loyal to Moscow. The Circus thinks that Polyakov has told his masters that he’s running a Circus double agent. This explains to them why Polyakov has clandestine meetings with the Circus, and where the material that pays for Witchcraft comes from. In fact, Polyakov really is running the Circus mole, and Witchcraft gives the two of them cover to meet and exchange information. The two stories are mirror images, other than one being true and one false.

    Witchcraft is the Circus’s biggest operation, and the one that made Alleline chief. From their point of view, its continued existence depends on Moscow Centre’s false belief that there’s a mole. And this false belief is one of their most closely guarded secrets: if it’s exposed to light in any way, the whole thing explodes. That’s why Connie is fired once she figures out that Polyakov is a spy. That’s why once Tarr reports that there’s a mole, he needs to be eliminated, and even the record of his report destroyed. When Guillam goes to London Station and find it in a complete uproar, it isn’t because they’re worried that there might be a mole, or that they’ll be injured by a false report of a mole; it’s because they’re worried that the “lie” that makes Witchcraft work will be revealed. That “lie” is of course a very damaging truth, and Karla has put Alleline in a position where he needs to keep it a secret even more than Karla does.Report

  3. Avatar Maribou
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    says:

    I’m really glad to have read this finally. And I’m actually glad I put it off, because I enjoyed how much thinking about story-telling technique I did while reading all the different flashback sections – and I wouldn’t have done that at 18…Report

  4. Avatar DensityDuck
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    says:

    I was actually a little disappointed by how…pat the ending was.
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    So this guy who’s been a master manipulator and planner, hiding right under everyone’s noses all along, surviving what must have been incredible mental strain without putting a foot wrong…when he’s caught he just melts down, offering no motive other than a half-baked babble of Marxist-religious dogma? He’s too smart to be that dumb. It could still be ideological, but I’d have at least expected something more coherent, more utilitarian; maybe “of course I sold out to them, they’re the side that’s going to win, and they deserve to”, or “I’ve seen what capitalism does and I’ll have none of it, maybe they’re bastards but at least they’ve a chance not to be”.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to DensityDuck
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      says:

      The most significant recent American double agents (John Walker, Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames) seem to have had no motive other than greed.

      Anyway, his motives weren’t about Marxism. They were mostly disgust at seeing the UK become a second-rate power and flunky for the US. As a loyal Brit, he’d be a big fish but in a tiny pond. As the mole who (if he hadn’t been stopped) would have compromised not only the Circus but the CIA, he’d have been somebody.Report

  5. Avatar Alan Scott
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    says:

    When I read Tinker (and it was a few years back), I was engaged by the setting that LeCarre wove but a little mystified by the plot. Putting it in the context of adultery gives me a bit of insight–I’d never drawn the connection between Smiley’s personal life and his professional life.

    The one thing that still manages to stick out as subtly off to me is Haydon’s bisexuality.

    For context, two of the Cambridge five were gay: Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt. Philby was not. Not quit sure if Haydon’s fondness for both sexes is an attempt to amalgamate or something else, but I think it bothered me because it just seemed like a very dated view of homosexuality–subtly equating Haydon’s sexuality with his treason. Hard not to see shades of the suffering that was inflicted on Alan Turing because of security fears.Report

  6. Avatar Will Truman
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    says:

    I actually called Haydon pretty early as the culprit. Mostly by dint that he was the most interesting suspect. It’s like when you have a mystery and one suspect is a more well-known actor than all of the other suspects.

    What I got wrong was the motivation. I just figured that he just thought it was a good idea for his career or that it was good by keeping everybody engaged sort of. I didn’t think he’d gone full anti-west.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Will Truman
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      says:

      Haydon is the most interesting suspect, that is most definitely the case. To me, as an avid reader and someone who is dipping his toes back into writing after long absence, what is interesting is how we get there in the end, story telling wise. Much more interesting than the O. Henry twist that we see so much of.

      We circle around, double back, false leads are tossed at us. And much like the characters, we like Haydon enough to make allowances for what he could be. He is obviously smarter than his boss and we appreciate that. For aren’t all of us smarter than our bosses?

      As for whether or not Smiley was smarter than Control, as someone mentioned earlier, it is harder to say. Smiley had better leads, with both Rikki Tarr (oily though he is) and himself getting the sack. Control was working it out on his own and was almost there.

      It is a masterfully told story, presented perfectly. In my view it is his best work, even better than Spy Who Came In From the Cold or Little Drummer Girl, which are quite close but don’t quite make it to that level.

      Like @mike-schilling this was probably my 3-4th time reading it. And also like Mike, I read it very closely for points to make in the recaps. One thing that came to me was just how velly, velly English it really was, with clubs and Oxford and Rolls Royce’s (and how they are perceived.) Not to mention how Lady Annes family (and Haydon’s, they were cousins remember) was just a part of the security apparatus. Because of course.Report

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