I don’t have good luck with standard best sellers or literary fiction. I decided to try Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy because the premise sounded interesting and I hear the author do a radio interview for the latest installment in the series not too long ago.
My first reaction to this novel was: “How could something this boring have possibly been a best-seller?” George Smiley spends a lot of time thinking about the past, doing paperwork, and talking to random acquaintances. He used to work for a British spy agency, but his boss has died, he has been forced basically into retirement, and he has problems with his marriage, namely his beloved wife can’t seem to stay faithful. The basic plot is that Smiley is called back to his former job to investigate the possibility of a double agent, likely with connections to someone pretty high up in the agency. In the course of trying to find the mole, there are quite a few flashbacks and occasional jumps to other perspectives. Even though I understand the connection that Jim has to the whole mess once it’s unraveled, I don’t quite understand why he is occasionally shown in his current time situation, teaching something at a boys school.
There is a lot of vague pointlessness and dullness here. The thing is, I wonder if this novel isn’t a bit more realistic than most spy thrillers. I have way of knowing for sure, but I’d be willing to be that many such stories, the Mission Impossible series for example, engage in a lot more excitement than real spy-craft involves. I would be willing to bet that Smiley’s spending days doing paperwork and surveillance is actually the more realistic norm. Even so, this novel was really boring. It seems like character is a slow burn kind of reveal here, since once Smiley actually gets into things, he does acquire a bit of personality and the only real bit of interestingess in the final quarter of the book is watching him get the confessions or information out of people who have participated in malfeasance of some sort or who may have something to contribute to the investigation.
I stand by my initial reaction. I will say I can kind of see why this might have been so popular given how different it is in style form most novels of the spy variety. Still, the most I can say is that I’ve read it. That’s really about it. If the movie is even slightly close to matching the book, there’s no way I can see staying awake for more than about a half hour, which I why I won’t be looking for that.