The central character in John Le Carré’s books like Tailor Soldier Spy, Call for the Dead, Tinker The Honourable Schoolboy, A Murder of Quality, and Smiley’s People, George Smiley is back in Carré’s latest, A Legacy of Spies. The book comes in after a gap of 27 years since the launch of The Secret Pilgrim.
Carré had once told that he had characterised Smiley keeping his own college tutor in mind. The spy is also said to have traces of Carré’s senior in the agency, John Bingham. While Smiley’s life events are not particularly well-defined, readers get to know about him more and more as they proceed with reading the books he has been featured in. Smiley has also been cast in a supporting character in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Looking Glass War, and The Secret Pilgrim.
Readers who’ve been following Smiley’s career in Carré’s books, would know that while they are told that Smiley joined the the agency in 1928, later, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he is said to have joined the agency in 1937. The explanation for this is that Carré didn’t want him to grow older in the subsequent stories.
What has made Smiley endearing is that he is everything we don’t usually associate with a sleuth. He doesn’t care about how he is dressed, neither does he care about his physique a-la James Bond. He is not your quintessential spy who is single and ready to mingle. He is married to someone who cheats on him. Violence is not something he can accept morally.
Released almost three decades later, A Legacy of Spies is mostly a reunion book where retired the agency man Peter Guillam is summoned by his boss Smiley, and while he has detached himself completely from his past life, he decides to go meet, on a whim. For those who haven’t read Carré’s works before, A Legacy of Spies is a good book to begin with, since it takes the reader back in time and explains a lot about Smiley and how the British the agency officer functioned.
What new readers would love is that though there are nine espionage books, yet there is no need to read them in a series. George Smiley is a spy one can identify with. He isn’t dapper, suave or too good to be true. He is an unimpressionable personality whose ability as a spy cannot be gauged by his personality.