I was just finishing my lunch today when I read some great news, really great news, on Twitter: John le Carré has written another book; and not just any old book but a new George Smiley novel.
le Carré has written over twenty novels in a career spanning sixty years but it is his Smiley, or Karla, trilogy that defines him as an author. It started with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), continued with The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and finished with Smiley’s People (1979).
In Tinker Tailor George Smiley is brought out of retirement to uncover the mole who has betrayed MI6 (or, the Circus, as le Carré laconically calls it) to the Soviet Spymaster, Karla. The Honourable Schoolboy takes place in the aftermath of the events of Tinker Tailor and follows the far-eastern adventures of ex-Circus man, Jerry Westerby. In Smiley’s People le Carré returns to George himself as the latter tries to bring down Karla once and for all.
All three books are full of tension, excitement, memorable characters and moments. If you have never read any of them, I cannot recommend the trilogy highly enough. Judging by le Carré’s website, his new novel – titled A Legacy of Spies – is set after the end of the Cold War. Smiley’s one time sidekick, Peter Guillam, is living in retirement in Brittany, but is called back to Britain to answer for his actions while at the Circus.
If the story is taking place in Guillam’s old age, George Smiley must surely be dead. So, although A Legacy of Spies is being touted as Smiley’s return, I would assume that he will only appear in flashbacks. We shall see.
John le Carré is now 85 and his decision to revisit George Smiley brings him full circle. Smiley first appeared in le Carré’s first novel, Call for the Dead (1961). He last appeared in The Secret Pilgrim (1990) and, though I may be wrong, I don’t believe le Carré intended to write about him again after that point. But I wonder if le Carré’s advanced age, and ever heightening awareness of his mortality, has persuaded him to finish where he started and give his most famous creation a proper send-off in the process.
Whatever the answer, I hope that le Carré lives for many years and blesses us with as many more books as he wishes to write. In the meantime, though, I wait with baited breath and a glad heart for A Legacy of Spies.
John le Carré’s website