Monday, April 18, 2005

Notable Book: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John Le Carre

As a bookseller, I thank "Smiley" over at The Daily Demarche for his recent plug for this book. (See comments section on their 6 months/200,000 hits post.) I've been selling books since the tail end of 1995 and this is one of the better sellers over the whole decade - and we've sold it to an astonishing variety of people. That kind of staying power and broad appeal in fiction is rare.

(Me? It's still in my to-read-someday stack, I'm afraid. I'm still working my way through the Tommy Hambledon books by Manning Coles, thanks. Tommy's no George Smiley, and was never meant to be, but he's a hoot as a hero. I'm afraid I'm one of those lightweights who generally prefers her fictional spies to be humorous as well as daring and ingenious. But I do plan to read this book. Really. But I have a huge stack of books to get to. Really.)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Barnes & Noble has a lengthy, detailed review by one of their own over at their website (click on the book cover - it should take you there). The review starts:

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which first appeared in 1974, is arguably Le Carré’s masterpiece and is surely one of the great spy novels of the 20th century. Loosely inspired by the career of Kim Philby, a Russian double agent who worked his way into the upper reaches of the British Secret Service, Tinker, Tailor tells the story of donnish, unprepossessing master spy George Smiley and his quest to identify the "mole" -- the deep-penetration agent -- who has turned Britain's Intelligence Service (commonly known as the Circus) inside out....

A side note, to any author out there trying to think up a pseudonym for yourself: If you pick one with a prefix, you are apt to get misfiled both on bookstore shelves and in Internet databases. In the bricks-and-mortar world, Le Carre gets put in both "L" and "C", for instance. (And no matter where you put his books, some customers will be upset that they're not in the other place. Trust me on that.) In addition, in databases he gets listed both as LeCarre and Le Carre, which don't always show up together in some book searches. And in some databases the fact that the last 'e' in his name is really an é, well, that can cause minor havoc, too. Pick something that can't be broken apart quite so many ways, please. Pretty please. Thanks.


Headmistress, zookeeper said...

We like Le Carre, and note as you point out that we have to hunt him up and down the bookstore aisles, under both names.

We also like Helen MacInnes' spy novels.

Smiley said...

Strangely enough, I was a bookseller too (among other things)in my former life. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is by far Le Carre's best novel (and I've read quite a few of them). I urge you to pick it up sooner, rather than later. But now that you mention it, I shall have to check out Manning Coles.


Kathryn Judson said...

Thanks for writing, both of you.

As it happens, Helen MacInnes was the author who introduced me to suspense books. In fact, in my youthful ignorance (and arrogance), I assumed espionage books were somehow inferior to anything written by Isaac Asimov, who was my hero of the moment. But I was wandering through the library, and the cover of one of her books looked interesting, and the rest is history.

As for books by Manning Coles, they are entertaining reads, but I find many of them to be more than that. For the ones written during World War II especially, I sometimes wonder if the British government wasn't putting in polite requests to the authors (Manning Coles is a pen name for a man and woman writing together)- something along the lines of 'do be good sports and point out the dangers of this or that will you? The public doesn't quite seem to grasp the hazards to which they're contributing, or the nastiness of our enemies. Turn Tommy loose on it, won't you? Thanks awfully.'

Then again, since the manly half of the writing team reportely worked for British Intelligence in real life, perhaps he saw the wider problems clearly enough and didn't need prompting, but only needed permission, from his superiors.