Thursday, June 29, 2006

Book Review: The Secret Pilgrim

I’ve read another book by John le Carré: The Secret Pilgrim (1991). As usual, I loved the book, and loved le Carré’s writing style.

The book is narrated by Ned, a former spy and current head of the Mi6 “spy school” (my words, not le Carré’s as far as I can remember), and also features George Smiley, in what is—I assume—his last appearance in a le Carré novel. According to Wikipedia, he is speaking to a class of newly recruited Mi6 students, although I could have sworn he was speaking at some kind of graduation ceremony; that the students were not “newly recruited”, but were in fact getting ready to begin the actual work of spying.

The book is really a set of short stories; each chapter gives an excerpt from Smiley’s talk, which then triggers a memory of one of Ned’s past exploits, which he shares with the readers—a device which is used very well to tie all of the stories together.

One of the things I like about spy novels from John le Carré is that they are much more realistic than other spy novels; they tend to give a bit of a “behind the scenes” look into the spy world. (Or, the British spy world, in the cold war era, at any rate.) This book does so even more than usual, so it might not be for everyone. If you’re a serious spy novel junkie, and love this deeper look into the world of spying, then you’d probably find this book fascinating. If you’re more of a casual reader of the spy novel genre, you may find this one boring, and should probably pass it by, for something more fast-paced.