The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Bucket Book – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I’m cheating.  This Bucket Book is a three-for-one special that includes the three volumes from John Le Carre that features George Smiley as the protagonist: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy; and Smiley’s People.  These book comprise the “Karla Trilogy,” in which  Smiley (an employee of British Intelligence MI6) attempts to outsmart Karla, his KGB opposite.

tinker coverhounorablesmiley

Le Carre is the master teller of spy stories, but his books represent anti-James Bond tales.  Smiley is old and frumpy, not debonair and muscular.  The plots are carried by the moral dilemmas of the characters and author’s insights into their struggles, not by fast-paced action.  While James Bond used cigarette guns or an Aston Martin with machine guns to do his job, Smiley’s tradecraft includes the knowledge of how to get a someone to tell secrets without asking.  Instead of winning all the women, Smiley constantly deals with the distraction of a beautiful wife, whose chief function in the novels is to distract him from his case due to her unfaithfulness.  James Bond may be the ultimate action hero, but George Smiley is the ultimate moral hero.  He struggles, yes.  But principles, convictions, and past loyalties shape his actions and torment his soul.

If you are looking for a page-turning, fast paced beach read, none of these may be your first choice.  But if you are intrigued by the ways men and women maintain their convictions and justify their sins, how average people rise to heroic stature in the face of certain defeat, what people under stress say to themselves when making decisions about loyalty and betrayal, Le Carre will be an author you enjoy.  Be prepared for plenty of British idioms and slang, plus wonderful English understatement.   I’ve read very few novels twice in my life; the three listed above represents the only series I’ve read twice, with the readings separated by 20+ years.


Here are some quotes to give you an idea of Le Carre’s insights into the heart:

“Home’s where you go when you run out of homes.”

 (Speaking of a widower) “We men who cook for ourselves are half-creatures, he thought as he scanned the two shelves, tugged out the saucepan and the frying-pan, poked among the cayenne and paprika. Anywhere else in the house—even in bed—you can cut yourself off, read your books, deceive yourself that solitude is best. But in the kitchen the signs of incompleteness are too strident. Half of one black loaf. Half of one coarse sausage. Half an onion. Half a pint of milk. Half a lemon. Half a packet of black tea. Half a life.”

“By repetition, each lie becomes an irreversible fact upon which other lies are constructed.”


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