Ranking the Novels of John Le Carré

Extollager

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Has anyone here read all of his novels? Probably we'll each just have to rank the handful that we have read.

My list isn't worth much because some of these were read so long ago, such as A Murder of Quality (which I'd forgotten having read; I thought I'd read one called Call for the Dead, but apparently it was Murder I was thinking of) and The Honourable Schoolboy. I'm posting my list to help get the discussion started, but I don't expect to have much to say. For the first three, I figured I'd rank them largely on the basis of number of readings. Since I have read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold one more time than The Looking Glass War, I ranked it ahead of the other, but in fact I have the impression that I liked Looking Glass more.

1.Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- 3 readings. Undoubtedly my interest in this novel is influenced by my esteem for the Alec Guinness miniseries, which might be my favorite miniseries of all those I have seen. (I disliked the movie.)
2.The Spy Who Came in from the Cold -- 3 readings.
3.The Looking Glass War -- 2 readings.
4.Smiley's People -- 1 reading.
5.The Honourable Schoolboy -- 1 reading.
6.A Murder of Quality -- 1 reading.
 
Well I suppose you have to start with the Karla/Smiley trilogy (Tinker tailor; the Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People), of which I thought the Honourable Schoolboy the best.
But really I preferred the Constant Gardener and even more The Night Manager.
I think I must mention the films and TV versions here. The film of the Night Manager with Hugh Laurie was excellent, and as for Smiley, the BBC adaptation with Alec Guinness was absolutely wonderful. Special mention of Beryl Reid as Connie, and also of Kathy Burke in the same role in the film, with Gary Oldman.
From the Night Manager onwards he was moving away from simply Spy stories to other things that concerned him. The pharmaceutical giants in the Constant Gardener, the arms trade in The Night Manager, Russian oligarchs in Single and Single (before we were really aware them and certainly before Poutin). Other things later; The results of colonialism in Afrika in the Mission Song, as I recall. I haven't read up to the end of the list. Almost everything up to The Mission Song, though, I think.

My father was obsessed with A Perfect Spy and used to quote it all the time, which rather spoiled it for me, because it was an excellent book otherwise, making a point about the redundancy of it all and very readable. The other problem was that I started to see Ricky Pym in my father, which was hardly a flattering comparison.
 
Not all of them, but quite a few. I'd find them really hard to rank, though. My favourite so far has been The Secret Pilgrim: partly because of the content (it contains three really excellent short stories and a lot of good ones) but also because of the style. Le Carre's style seems to alter a lot from book to book, even within the same series. For instance, I would mark Smiley's People down from Tinker Tailor, because he uses a weird stylistic conceit that characters are looking back on the events of the story a long time later.

I also think that, like Ballard, Le Carre eventually started to tell the same story over and again: a wealthy, naive, nice British chap gets involved with some foreign criminals. He fails to understand the ruthlessness of the criminals (secret police, Russian oligarchs, terrorists etc) and the corruption of the British establishment, who are either hopelessly weak or blatantly up for sale (and on occasion the brutality of Americans), and suffers for it. There's a lot of truth in that story, at least so far as the UK is concerned, but it needed to be told with more variety, in my opinion.

(I'd contrast this with, say, Mick Herron, who aims at similar targets but seems to come up with more variety in his stories - although he probably owes Le Carre a big debt overall, as do most spy novelists.)

Likewise, I think the BBC adaptations of Tinker Tailor, Smiley's People and The Night Manager were all extremely good.
 
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I also think that, like Ballard, Le Carre eventually started to tell the same story over and again: a wealthy, naive, nice British chap gets involved with some foreign criminals. He fails to understand the ruthlessness of the criminals (secret police, Russian oligarchs, terrorists etc) and the corruption of the British establishment, who are either hopelessly weak or blatantly up for sale (and on occasion the brutality of Americans), and suffers for it. There's a lot of truth in that story, at least so far as the UK is concerned, but it needed to be told with more variety, in my opinion.
This is very true for the hero, but he still ends up hitting his target (said oligarchs/ pharmaceuticals/arms traders) quite effectively. (Even my father, whom he wasn't aiming for. :D)
 
Inspired by a comment in Chrons in the last couple of days (I can't find it now!) I've started a reread of Tinker tailor last night.
 
@Danny McG I remember seeing the mini-series of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy here in the States when I was younger, but am now curious about the book too.
Have a go at it, it takes a bit of concentration but it's well worth the effort.
TBH when you're reading it you mentally see Alec Guinness every time Smiley blinks or leans back or polishes his glasses.

(And unlike Tom Hardy in the film, IMO Hywel Bennett in the series really got what Rikki Tarr was all about)
 
Has anyone here read all of his novels? Probably we'll each just have to rank the handful that we have read.

My list isn't worth much because some of these were read so long ago, such as A Murder of Quality (which I'd forgotten having read; I thought I'd read one called Call for the Dead, but apparently it was Murder I was thinking of) and The Honourable Schoolboy. I'm posting my list to help get the discussion started, but I don't expect to have much to say. For the first three, I figured I'd rank them largely on the basis of number of readings. Since I have read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold one more time than The Looking Glass War, I ranked it ahead of the other, but in fact I have the impression that I liked Looking Glass more.

1.Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- 3 readings. Undoubtedly my interest in this novel is influenced by my esteem for the Alec Guinness miniseries, which might be my favorite miniseries of all those I have seen. (I disliked the movie.)
2.The Spy Who Came in from the Cold -- 3 readings.
3.The Looking Glass War -- 2 readings.
4.Smiley's People -- 1 reading.
5.The Honourable Schoolboy -- 1 reading.
6.A Murder of Quality -- 1 reading.

Agree with the comments and the ranking.

I thought the movie poor but maybe that’s because the mini series was so good - I have the DVD and have watched it many times. One if the underrated aspects of it is the music that is strangely haunting.
 
I just ran across this, from a review of JlC's letters by Peter Hitchens.

The desperate maneuvers of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, in which British spies destroy a good man (and casually wreck other lives too) to aid the rise of a bad one, are grim enough. Far more savage is “The Looking Glass War,” in which pathetic bureaucrats, still living Churchillian dreams of British greatness, take terrible risks for a futile end. Their follies are entangled with miserable private betrayals and wrecked marriages. The book is wonderfully written and takes firm hold of the reader—but grows more painful with each re-reading. Cornwell told friends that The Looking Glass War “for me remained always much braver and much better” than The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

 
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Should this not have been titled Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poorman?

From the book (Jim Prideaux to Smiley, recounting what happened):-

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor. Alleline was Tinker, Haydon was Tailor, Bland was Soldier and Toby Esterhase was Poorman. We dropped Sailor because it rhymed with Tailor. You were Beggarman,’ Jim said.
 

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