Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John le Carre  writes in British English and uses a lot of slang and vernacular, speaking in the language of spies. He also interjects wayward little sub-stories in mid-plot, then pieces them together during subsequent chapters, adding the beginning or end. I found the first reading rather frustrating because I could not remember all the characters and couldn't fit all the pieces together. The ending was tense with a fine surprise, but I got there knowing I had missed a lot and didn't quite understand who it was that was sneaking about in the shadows trailing our fat, dumpy hero Smiley.

So as soon as I finished, I started reading the book again.

"Ah!", I can say now. THAT is who Prideaux is and I understand why he got shot in the back. And why he lays low in remote rural England in a camping trailer hidden down in a dead swimming pool teaching at an obscure school.

Interesting that he speaks with a military voice.

The reading is more fun the second time through because I get it. And I understand the slang better.

Elegant. Superbly elegant. Wonderfully mysterious. And what a great bunch of characters, described with such clarity that you feel you know these people. You certainly choose favorites, even though one or two of them are killers for a patriotic cause.

Of course it means a 422 page novel has become 844 pages long. But hey, no one said reading was easy.

I could read the following line a hundred times and never tire of it.

"Behind the desk, Control himself, a carcass of a man by then, with his lank grey forelock and his smile as warm as a skull."

Control is never named. He is the aging head spy, pushed out by a gang of four up-and-comers. They are Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, for one of them is suspected of being a mole. Spy networks across Europe and Russia have been rolled up, most dispatched to the grave. Secret agent Tarr figures out there is a rat in the bird's nest, and Smiley is brought back from retirement to find out who it is.

Only pick up this book if you are willing to work at reading. It is almost in a foreign language. Spy-speak and Brit-speak.

Which reminds me. I need to finish Don Quixote. I got to about page 950 of 1,100 before I went on a year's leave from that monster. The only thing that kept me going was Sancho Panza's endless supply of platitudes. And eventually even he could not pull me along.

It's rather like reading in mud . . .

Still, I have learned that those who tilt at windmills are often more entertaining and honest than those who don't.

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