Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Secret Pilgrim, by John le Carré

(hb; 1990: sixth novel in the George Smiley series)

From the inside flap:

"Nothing is as it was. Old enemies embrace. The dark staging grounds of the Cold War - whose shadows barely obscured the endless games of espionage - are flooded with light; the rules are rewritten, the stakes changed, the future unfathomable. . .

"The man called Ned speaks to us. All his adult life he has been in British Intelligence - the Circus - a loyal, shrewd, wily officer of the Cold War. Now, approaching the end of his career, he revisits his own past - an intricate weave of suspicion, danger, boredom and exhilaration that is the essence of espionage and of his own sentimental education. He invites us on a tour of his three decades in the Circus, burrowing deep into the twilight world where he ran spies - 'joes' - from Poland, Estonia, Hungrary, men and women to whom he gave his most profound love and hate. Along the way we meet a host of splendid new characters and reacquaint ourselves with the legendary old knights of the Circus and the notorious traitor, Bill Haydon.

"Telling the story of his own life's secret pilgrimage, Ned illuminates the brave past and the even braver present of George Smiley - reluctant keeper of the flame - who combines within himself the ideal and the reality of the Circus. Smiley, Ned's mentor and hero, now gives back to him the 'dangerous edge' of memory which empowers him to frame the questions that have haunted him - and the world - for thirty years, and that haunt us still."


Excellent, intimate capping novel for the George Smiley legend (within the Circus) and the mindsets that made up the Circus - Ned, the narrator, is alternately the voice of appropriate awe and character balance as he recounts some of his more notable cases; many of these cases also involve Smiley, whose post-retirement wrap-around recountings anchor and create further layers of wisdom, intrigue and, again, intimacy.

Worthy finish to an exemplary, dare I say, epic-in-scope series.

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