Wednesday, 29 August 2001

John le Carré: The Secret Pilgrim (1991)

Edition: Coronet, 1991
Review number: 927

The last Smiley novel is unique in le Carré's output. It is very episodic, and in many places reads like a collection of short stories. It has a regretful, valedictory tone, but is one of the easiest of le Carré's novels to read.

The narrator is Ned, the former head of the Russia House in the novel of that name, now running a secret service training course. He invites the long retired, legendary George Smiley to talk to the group, to find that the discussion that follows sparks memories of his own past.

Like most of le Carré's spy fiction, the episodes which come to Ned's mind do not reflect much credit on the British secret service and, being arranged neatly chronologically, demonstrate his growing disillusion with the job he is doing. Even so, the tone is light, perhaps a response to Ned's retirement, the vantage point from which he is writing. It is also, presumably, from le Carré's point of view part of giving Smiley a proper send off; it is made very clear that no more is to be written about him (he even asks, at the end of the evening, not to be asked back again, so that the new generation can move on from his influence).

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