After much anticipation, the return of George Smiley is here and deserves nothing less than a celebration. John le Carré's first Smiley novel in more than a quarter of a decade is now out in paperback. It takes us back to the 'Circus', and to cherished characters whose past actions are returning to haunt them.
Read the opening of this intense and thrilling novel below.
A Legacy of Spies
What follows is a truthful account, as best I am able to provide it, of my role in the British deception operation, codenamed Windfall, that was mounted against the East German Intelligence Service (Stasi) in the late nineteen fifties and early sixties, and resulted in the death of the best British secret agent I ever worked with, and of the innocent woman for whom he gave his life.
A professional intelligence officer is no more immune to human feelings than the rest of mankind. What matters to him is the extent to which he is able to suppress them, whether in real time or, in my case, fifty years on. Until a couple of months ago, lying in bed at night in the remote farmstead in Brittany that is my home, listening to the honk of cattle and the bickering of hens, I resolutely fought off the accusing voices that from time to time attempted to disrupt my sleep. I was too young, I protested, I was too innocent, too naive, too junior. If you’re looking for scalps, I told them, go to those grand masters of deception, George Smiley and his master, Control. It was their refined cunning, I insisted, their devious, scholarly intellects, not mine, that delivered the triumph and the anguish that was Windfall. It is only now, having been held to account by the Service to whichI devoted the best years of my life, that I am driven in age and bewilderment to set down, at whatever cost, the light and dark sides of my involvement in the affair.
How I came to be recruited to the Secret Intelligence Service in the first place – the ‘Circus’ as we Young Turks called it in those supposedly halcyon days when we were quartered, not in a grotesque fortress beside the River Thames, but in a fustian Victorian pile of red brick, built on the curve of Cambridge Circus – remains as much of a mystery to me as do the circumstances of my birth; and the more so since the two events are inseparable.
My father, whose acquaintance I barely remember, was according to my mother the wastrel son of a wealthy Anglo-French family from the English midlands, a man of rash appetites, fast- diminishing inheritance and a redeeming love of France. In the summer of 1930, he was taking the waters in the spa town of Saint-Malo on Brittany’s north coast, frequenting the casinos and maisons closes and generally cutting a dash. My mother, sole offspring of a long line of Breton farmers, at that time aged twenty, also happened to be in town, performing the duties of a bridesmaid at the wedding of the daughter of a wealthy cattle auctioneer. Or so she claimed. However, she is a single source, not above a little decoration when the facts were against her, and it would not at all surprise me if she came into town for less upright purposes.
One of our greatest spy novelists, John le Carré was born in 1931 and attended the universities of Bern and Oxford. He taught at Eton and served briefly in British Intelligence during the Cold War. For more than fifty years he has lived by his pen. He divides his time between London and Cornwall.
Photo credit: Nadav Kandar