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Smiley's Honor-bound Labor

The Honourable Schoolboy

Title: The Honourable Schoolboy
By: John LeCarre

Recently, I have re-read John Le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy, and gained some deeper understanding of George Smiley, a unique British character who plays an essential and indispensible role whenever a crisis occurs, but is forever forgotten by bureaucratic machines for any career promotions or advancement, despite every single victory he won for the Establishment. We can find such a similar fate in John Clifford Mortimer’s Horace Rumpole, an ageing barrister who defends his clients tirelessly and fearlessly throughout his long professional career. However, the title of QC or Circuit Judge forever eludes him.

Though the Cold War was long over, the creator of George Smiley has turned to other themes for his literary creations. For some mysterious reasons, the character of George Smiley has some eternal haunting effect, especially through the trilogy. In Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (1974), Smiley is called from his retirement to unmask a mole at the heart of the British Secret Service. In The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), Smiley is recalled to salvage and restore the Service’s ravaged network sabotaged by Karla, the head of Moscow Center. In the final book, Smiley's People (1979), he is called again to be the architect of Karla’s surrender.

Keeping intact its consistent suspense, excitement and techniques of espionage, The Honourable Schoolboy has further developed the complex character of George Smiley by reconfirming his firm set of ethics and honors, “I honestly do wonder, without wishing to be morbid, how I reached this present pass. So far as I can ever remember of my youth, I chose the secret road because it seemed to lead straightest and furthest toward my country’s goal.” (p. 532-533).

View similarly tagged posts: fiction

Posted by Hui-Lan on Aug. 19, 2010 at 10:54 a.m.
1 Comment


August 24, 2010 at 12:42 a.m.:

Good review. I like the way you weave the trilogy together, because that is the key. Smiley says something about finding Karla's human weakness in the first book, and it is brought up in the last book as the hook. But "The Honourable Schoolboy" is the fullest of the three, in exposure to so many locales, and in descriptions of thoughts and feelings. And so very British, especially the first few chapters.

Coincidentally, just in the last week, I started reading it again. So your review is very timely for me.

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