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In our pages: John Le Carré still looks good

June 7, 2011 |  1:21 pm

Johnlecarre_in2008John Le Carré's classic, seminal spy novel "Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy" has been reissued by Penguin with a new introduction by the author. In it he reveals that an early draft of the novel proved so frustrating that he took it outside and burned it.

When he started over, Richard Rayner writes in today's L.A. Times, Le Carré came up with what is "perhaps the greatest spy novel written."

The reader's unlikely guide through these labyrinthine intricacies is George Smiley, a plodding, padding spy-as-bureaucrat .... he's a mournful aging hero as determinedly unglamorous as he is dogged and brilliant. Le Carré introduces him thus: "[H]e was by appearance one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill-fitting, and extremely wet."

Smiley's overcoat has a "hint of widowhood" about it, and his serially unfaithful wife, the lovely Ann, says he looks like "an egg-cosy." James Bond or Jason Bourne, Smiley is not. He's presented to us as being out of favor, living in enforced retirement, shabbily treated as the result of a secret op botched by his former boss and mentor, a character known simply as "Control" who, in the latter stages of his career and life, became obsessed with the idea that the Soviets had turned his networks inside-out through the agency of a mole.

Read Rayner's full review.

This fall, a film version of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" will hit theaters just before Thanksgiving, starring Gary Oldman (will I be the only one in the theater trying to reconcile Joe Orton, Sid Vicious and George Smiley?). Alec Guiness starred as Smiley in the 1979 version "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," produced for television by the BBC.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Le Carré in 2008. Credit: Cristian Barnett / Hodder & Stoughton