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Rereading "The Honourable Schoolboy" again


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#1 Ed Waffle

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Posted 19 December 2011 - 06:21 PM

John Le Carre and his creation George Smiley have been much in the news recently with the release of the new "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" movie with Gary Oldman as Smiley. I think it is a wonderful book and thought to read it again but it turns out I am just too familiar with it to really enjoy reading it now. I simply remember too much of what is on the page. Not the ending of course because the way things end are no more important in Le Carre's novels than the process by which they arrive at the ending--probably less so--but the real detail of who did what to whom and when.

I had "Tinker, Tailor" in a volume with "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "Smiley's People" and decided to follow the adventures of Jerry Westerby once more. Much of the attraction of Le Carre is the the incredible detail he uses to not only build characters but to describe what they are doing. This attention to minutia is not for everyone--a friend wasn't able to read it, complaining that, when Jerry Westerby is on his way to "burn" a minor official of a bank in Hong Kong it took two pages to get him across the street. It did. I found it enthralling as I not only followed Westerby into the bank but watched his every move as he mimed a sudden need for ready cash just as it was closing at noon on Saturday. More importantly we got a real sense of the the thrill and the anxiety of an agent in the field in a potentially hostile area.

"The Honourable Schoolboy" has a certain cachet for me. It was the first new, hardcover, full-price book that I ever bought, at least one that wasn't either a textbook or a gift--an extravagant gift at that. Spending $12.95 or whatever it was in 1977 instead of getting on a long list at the library, trying to find a review copy sold by a reviewer to a North side bookstore or just reading it twenty or thirty pages at a time while standing in the aisle at Kroch's and Brentano's made me feel like a real plutocrat.

#2 dirac

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Posted 20 December 2011 - 12:52 PM

Hello, Ed. Nice to hear from you again. Le Carre is one of those writers I've never gotten around to except for a glance at The Little Drummer Girl many moons ago, but I would think that novels in his particular genre wouldn't necessarily bear too much re-reading no matter how good they are. Would like to hear from others more familiar with his body of work than I.

I have fond memories of Alec Guinness as Smiley back when but I can imagine Oldman in the part.

#3 dirac

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Posted 16 January 2012 - 01:27 PM

I think it is a wonderful book and thought to read it again but it turns out I am just too familiar with it to really enjoy reading it now. I simply remember too much of what is on the page. Not the ending of course because the way things end are no more important in Le Carre's novels than the process by which they arrive at the ending--probably less so--but the real detail of who did what to whom and when.

I saw the new movie and it was most enjoyable. I intend to read the book.

#4 Colleen Boresta

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 05:09 AM

I read the John Le Carre Search for Karla trilogy a long time ago and I don't remember a lot of details. My husband just reread Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy after we saw the movie and he keeps saying that Gary Oldman doesn't physically fit the part of Smiley. Smiley is supposed to be short and fat. I don't think that matters. Alec Guiness didn't physically fit the part either. But I think Oldman has caught the essence of the Smiley character. I'll have to reread the book myself to see about that. I think the movie stands very well on its own. It must be hard to cut a book of that length and make a two hour movie out it. I think whoever adapted it did a great job (which is why they or he or she is up for an Oscar for the job).

One thing that surprised both me and John (my husband) about the movie was that Jerry W. (I just read his last name in your post but I can't remember it now) had a small part in it. I do remember that Jerry is the main character in The Honourable School Boy. I really want to re-read all three books when I get a chance. Fortunately my husband owns them.


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