My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Accompanied by a recent movie, and a near-legendary TV series before that, this novel has reached folkloric status amongst many of my reader friends. It’s convoluted, labrynthine in its twists and turns, and finely-balanced in its examination of the personalities drawn to the grey-washed world of espionage.
However, the book itself is dry and often dull, with great swathes of exposition as George Smiley and his cohorts wade through pile after pile of paperwork. Everything is claustrophobic, turning on a mis-timed phrase or mis-interpreted gesture. There’s little action, and the subtle variations in personality and tone begin to pale after a while, so that the whole thing becomes as grey as its subject matter by the end, and only the revelation of the traitor’s identity remains to drag the reader ever onward.
Le Carre is a master storyteller, and this book shows the full range of his storytelling techniques. But ultimately, the story itself just isn’t as gripping as other Le Carre novels, and it stands as merely a good book, instead of a great one.