When I Googled “what makes a good spy story,” I came across some advice that made it sound so easy (yeah, right). Aside from “a blockbuster concept, flawless structure, and epic narrative drive,” you need:
- A stunning opening
- A dynamic protagonist
- A realistic setting
- Startling twists
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy might not have a “stunning” opening, but it’s good enough. I found the Cold War setting quite realistic. The aging former super spy hardly makes for a dynamic protagonist—quite the opposite—but he is not meant to be, so I am OK with that. Action? Nope, no action. But I can do without action. What about cliffhangers and startling twists?
I am sure there were some, since it’s about spies and double agents, but I couldn’t tell you for sure. I was too overwhelmed by the 5,000 people in this book to pay attention to cliffhangers and plot twists.
OK, I exaggerate, but during most of the 381 pages all I did was trying to keep track of all the characters. Most of the time, I was unsuccessful. There are too many people in this book—and some of them aren’t even real (book-real, that is). And not only are there too many people, there are also too many names. Names of people, names of places, names of operations, code names, names of people who never existed, names of people who no longer exist, . . . you get the gist. Too many names!
It was on page 174 that I felt the book was done setting up the story and I started to get a handle on the story. (Wow, it took 174 pages to set up the story? Wow, I can’t believe I have forced myself to read 174 pages already.) By page 212, it was back to drudging through the swamp, wondering why I should care about who is on which side and why.
Oooh, did Guillam just get caught snooping in the files? Is this an interrogation? Are they just toying with him? Is this a test? Is this about . . . oh, wait, we’re back to Bill Haydon having an affair with Smiley’s wife. (Aren’t they cousins?) And what is Roy Bland doing here? I thought he was in Russia. No, that was that other guy, what was his name again?
I briefly thought that maybe I didn’t like the book because it was outdated; no Internet, no satellite phones, no e-mail, etc., but that’s not it. I actually enjoyed the descriptions of the old-fashioned way they were working: checking paper files, organizing secret mail drops, and lighting cigarettes to signal the “all clear.” And there were hints of why I have liked Le Carré in the past; notably, his ability to paint a scene with few words. And there was a certain “Englishness” in parts of the book enjoyed. I just wish the story hadn’t been so damn crowded….
Well, I get to tick off a few things:
- Read a book for the R.I.P. X Challenge. Check.
- Read a book for my TBR Pile Challenge. Check.
- Read a book from my Classics Club list. Check.
- Read a book that makes me sit on the edge of my chair. NO CHECK. Too bad, that was the most important one.
Can you recommend a good thriller? I don’t want blood and bodies, just good mind-game suspense. Any suggestions?