Book notes | Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was published in 1974; still fresh was the disclosure that British intelligence (nicknamed “The Circus” in the book for its fictionalized location on Cambridge Circus in London) had been severely compromised by Soviet double agents imbedded in the hierarchy of the English secret service. These were Englishmen of impeccable pedigree, Cambridge and Oxford University graduates.

Tinker, Tailor the nursery rhyme provides the code names of five agents serving at the highest level of British intelligence. Within them is a mole, a double agent. George Smiley, generally regarded as an honorable spy chief, is recruited to uncover the mole.

The novel is a story about secrets, lies, and shifting identities. It is about spycraft, where it is hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Driven by ideology
The espionage, as it is finally uncovered, is the work of a mole driven by ideology, not by greed.  

Le Carré portrays spy strategies as dubious, obscure, complex, of endless treacheries and uncertain outcomes. He forces the question, who benefited from these activities and what was won?

Tinker, Tailor has been celebrated as an introduction to grownup reality, a double serving of pessimism and pleasure.

At our July 23rd meeting, members of UMRA’s Fourth Friday Book Club agreed it was a very good read—a story where every character, every characterization was rich with possibilities; a fictional world most likely too close to actual events.  

Upcoming meetings:

August 27. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
September 24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
October 22. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
November 26. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

New members are welcome to the Fourth Friday Book Club. Contact Dorothy Marden or Margaret Catambay to learn more.

—Dorothy Marden, Fourth Friday Book Club (aka UMRA Book Club II)

Publication date: 
July 28, 2021
Upcoming Programs
At A Glance
Nov 9 2021 - 9:00am
Meredith McQuaid
Associate Vice President and Dean of International Programs
University of Minnesota

Nov 16 2021 - 11:00am
Alice Larson
Professor Emeritus
College of Veterinary Medicine

Nov 23 2021 - 12:00pm
Garry Jenkins, JD
Dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law
University of Minnesota Law School