I had no idea, at all, that I was going to enjoy John le Carre's classic as much as I did. I was intrigued, interested, and riveted to my seat. Who would have thought a tale written and set during the height and downfall of the Cold War, and containing nearly no action and a multitude of characters with astounding levels of depth, would capture my imagination so? And yet it did.
The story concerns the efforts (imposed efforts, I should say) of "retired" MI6 agent George Smiley. The story is told primarily through flashbacks and memories, as Mr. Smiley is clandestinely recruited to root out a mole from the tippy top of MI6 headquarters itself.
That barely scratches the surface of le Carres amazing novel. It clocks in around 268 pages or so, and is filled with all sorts of jargon from around the time this is set- late sixties, early seventies. Despite all the names, places, and events that swirl around George Smiley and through his mind, not once was I lost, or bored, or irritated. About 120 pages in I happened upon a wikipedia entry for the book that listed definitions for all the jargon throughout, which helped greatly, but honestly le Carres prose is so solid and flowing that you get the gist of the terms anyway- so long as you're not a complete dunce.
The book works through both memory and present, and with it reveals characters and events that all lead to an unearthing of the aforementioned mole. But its the characters that truly shine throughout the book. Seriously, by books end I felt I knew these guys, their passions, their desires, their means and reasons, their hopes, fears, successes and failures. Every time a character is introduced, le Carre basically goes to their childhood and lays out their path up to now. Not once is it boring, or rote, or repetitive. With a lock onto these characters as they are revealed, it allows your mind to better grasp people in places, causing or reacting to events, and it allows you to actively participate in the hunt that forms the crux of the entire enterprise. I found my mind creating possible scenarios, concocting possible solutions to problems, and even committing certain moments to memory for future reference. I'll be honest: I've never, EVER had a book stick in my mind quite like this has. I've still got images, names, people running through my mind from the book. I honestly don't think I want to let them go.
I loved it. I'd read it again. Dead serious. I think I'll start tracking down John le Carre's other work now. Oh, and I watched an interview with him after viewing the 2011 film adaptation (review forthcoming) and he seems like the coolest, most knowledgeable, conversationally exciting 80 year old that achieved success. And very humble, self-aware and humorous too. I'd love to chat with the guy. He reminded me of me but without the whole being useless at everything.