John Le Carre’s Smiley Books

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This started out as one of those posts I put up pointing to a cheap book on the Kindle. And it still is a post pointing to a cheap book, but then, I have a pitch for you to read John le Carré’s Smiley series (and one other book).

If you have never red John le Carré’s Smiley series, you should. Well, you may or may not like Le Carré’s writing style. He requires work on the part of the reader and can be dense and intense. The stories can be grueling in their detail. But that all makes it very realistic. If you have been keeping up with all the newspaper accounts and findings regarding the Trump-Russian scandal, and if you have been doing so over the last two years, then you are experiencing something much like reading all of Le Carré’s novels in sequence, except a) Le Carré is a better writer than reality and b) reality is much scarier.

The Smiley series happens in the context of the Cold War (as to all of le Carré’s books up until the cold war ends, more or less). You pretty much need to read them in sequence, then, when you are done, watch the various movies and TV series based on them.

I bring this all up now because the seventh book in the series, Smiley’s People: A George Smiley Novel (George Smiley Novels Book 7), is now in Kindle form for cheap.

And, for general reference, John le Carré’s Smiley books in order:

Pre-Karla Trilogy, from the author’s page-turner period:

Call for the Dead: A George Smiley Novel (which is also JlC’s first novel.)

A Murder of Quality: A George Smiley Novel

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

The Looking Glass War: A George Smiley Novel

Karla Trilogy:

At this point the novels shift in several ways. The dynamic at the British intelligence agency is set up around factions that involve class and ethnic differences (in this case, “ethnic” means one kind of British white guy vs. a different kind of British white guy), and Karla (East German) emerges as the main bad guy. The next three books are a trilogy. You can read them without having read the above, but this is the point where JlC’s writing style changes from something you might really like/not like to something you might really like/not like, so I’d not skip the titles listed above. (I think what happened is, le Carre made it big enough that he was able to tell his editors what to do, instead of the other way round. Sort of like JK Rowling after Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A George Smiley Novel

The Honourable Schoolboy

Smiley’s People: A George Smiley Novel

Latter day Smiley novels

The Secret Pilgrim: A Novel

A Legacy of Spies: A Novel

Le Carré wrote several other novels (and continues to do so) but they vary a lot in how much I like them. I won’t discuss them here. But, there is one book I want to mention.

If the Smiley series (above) is one of the greatest stories ever told set in the world of spies and espionage of the 20th century, then it is possible that A Perfect Spy: A Novel, by Johyn le Carré, is one of the single best books in this genre (and beyond). It is shocking, wrenching, fascinating, and, while you read it, you should know that it is autobiographical to a certain extent. It is likely that John Le Carré, who was (with a different name) an officer in the British intelligence agency MI6, would be dead or in prison for life had he committed all the acts of his counterpart in this book. But otherwise it is pretty autobiographical, including the character that is the “perfect spy’s” over the top father. I recommend reading the Smiley series first, then, if you like Le Carré’s writing, read and enjoy A Perfect Spy.

Have you read the breakthrough novel of the year? When you are done with that, try:

In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback

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6 thoughts on “John Le Carre’s Smiley Books

  1. Some trivia: I recall reading an interview with Le Carre that he wrote Smiley’s People with Alec Guiness in mind, after the actor portrayed George Smiley in the BBC series of Tinker, Tailor… Both series were terrific and faithful to the books, with Patrick Stewart in a brief cameo as Karla in Smiley’s People (long before ST:NG).

  2. A quick search reveals very many Le Carre titles are available for free download on the internet. They are are also free to borrow from public and school libraries in many countries and very cheap to buy in used bookshops in most of the world. There are also new editions in new bookshops at greater cost.

    There is a range of of free audio books available as well for those with sight impairment or literacy issues from your local library ( at least in Australia ) or on the internet.
    These options slip your mind Greg, when you were deciding on how to inform readers about accessing the featured authors work?
    How the fuck could you overlook libraries?
    Seriously, how the fuck?

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