The Honourable Schoolboy, by John le Carre

My Copy: 9780143119739

The Honourable Schoolboy is the sequel to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, part of what’s known as the Karla trilogy by some readers. I’m intent on finishing this trilogy, though from what I understand–per leCarre’s own comments–Karla and Smiley (our hero) do make appearances in other works.

That said, I’m glad that I went back and re-read the introduction by the author, because this book is a different animal than “Tinker Tailor…” It answered some questions, but opened up so many more.

The Honourable Schoolboy jumps between two story-lines that play off each other. One follows George Smiley and the re-vamped Circus, a short time after the brouhaha of “Tinker Tailor…”‘s events. He’s brought back some old hands to work with him and some of their interactions are among the best I’ve read (especially the unsinkable Connie Sachs with just about anybody she speaks to). Some players will be familiar from the first book, others not, but it’s not terribly complicated on the character level here.

The other story-line revolves around Jerry Westerby (who is the “honourable schoolboy” of Smiley’s reminiscence). Westerby was recruited by Smiley decades before and works as a reporter as well as a spy. Most of the book follows Westerby as he meets people and gathers information on a businessman in Hong Kong with very important connections, some of which may reach to Moscow (and Smiley’s ever-elusive counterpart, Karla).

That’s the basic story. For myself, I admit I’m surprised I didn’t like this book as much. I think it was because it was so easy for me to get lost in the events. I joked that some books can be complex, but don’t need you to make a spreadsheet or flowchart regarding who, what, where, and when.

And I definitely got to feeling it would’ve been easier if I did make one this time around.

I found the travels and trips of our heroes worth a read. The action jumps all over the map, from England, to Hong Kong, Cambodia, Laos, China and maybe half a dozen other places. The way le Carre wrote about the travels, it feels much like a brief travelogue, if a tourist were to consider a war zone a worthy vacation destination. There’s so much going on around Westerby and you feel like he’s reporting these sights to you (and then forgetting you by adding in his own odd thoughts as they crop up out of nowhere, as we do when our minds wander for a moment or two).

I think it’s worth a look for its contemporary and historical slant on things. With this book, le Carre actually traveled to many of the places he wrote about here. The America’s Vietnam War is nearly over as events unfold, and following Jerry Westerby’s adventures, along with the re-built Circus, has its moments. LeCarre is excellent at putting us in the war zones.

Beyond that, I had a very hard time piecing together what the hell was going on. And because of the pre-made world of the Circus co-mingling with the globe-trotting Jerry, it felt like I was reading two different books that happened to have similar characters in them.

I have a feeling I’d have to read it 2 or 3 times to really get it all in. It’s a much more sprawling book than its predecessor, and the information revealed was in such small drips and drabs that I could barely remember what the heck they were looking for. I still don’t think I understood the ending much if at all, and some of the character’s motivations and place in the story made little sense to me.

I feel that the author had too much fun writing about the locations and sacrificed some clarity for it. Granted, le Carre’s work makes you want to look it over to see the delicate weaving of plot–or at least it did that very well in “Tinker, Tailor.” Le Carre has a lot to say in the introduction that deserves a look…but perhaps after reading the book.

I may have to read this book a few more times to really get and appreciate it.

I hate to say that I’m not sure I want to put in the effort…at least, not for a while.

Perhaps Smiley’s People, the end of the trilogy, will shine some light on events.

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