Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – After thirty years I think I finally get it!

Many years ago I read John le Carre’s famous spy novel Tinker Tailor Solder Spy (I’ll call it Tinker from now on I think) in paperback. How old was I? I suspect (yes it was that long ago) I was little more than a teenager but even then I liked the twists and turns of spy novels even if I had only the vaguest idea of what was going on. A bit like life!

In truth when I made it to the end and found out whodunnit (no spoilers even though it was published in 1974) I was just relieved I’d made it to the end of what seemed a thick fog of too much smoke and too many mirrors. My teenage brain couldn’t multi-task on the scale required for a le Carre maze…but I still enjoyed the mental gymnastics exercise all the same.


Years later I joined Audible (the talking book thing) and discovered the BBC Radio dramatisation of Tinker so dutifully downloaded it and listened over several nights on my phone. By the end I understood it a bit more…but only a bit more. It helped to be hearing differing voices rather than just my own as when I’d read the book. Differing voices with their own characters and personalities can be so revealing.

Then one night some time later during a television channel hop adventure I happened on the latest film of Tinker (2011). Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and co helped me process the seemingly impenetrable twists and turns yet further, filling in pieces of the jigsaw that had been forming in my mind since I first read the paperback.

But there were still gaps.

This time I discovered the actual book on Audible. Not the Audible BBC Radio adaptation I’d previously listened to but the actual book read on Audible with sole narrator Michael Jayston doing a pretty good job at voicing multiple characters. I surprised myself by concluding that I understood far more of the plot now, even some of the most twisty and turny plot moves.

I was nearly there! I nearly understood the book! But there were still some gaps so I gave myself one last time with Tinker (at some point you have to move on to another book) and listened to the Audible BBC Radio dramatisation once more and this time I’m pretty sure I understood the whole thing. I mean it probably took me something like thirty years to get there overall but hey…I should really get a prize or something.

I still don’t think I’m knowledgeable enough to appear on Mastermind with John le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as my specialised subject and my general knowledge isn’t good enough to make up the missing points either. I’m only slightly better with Mastermind questions than University Challenge questions…which can be as impenetrable as a John le Carre novel. But I digress…

I picked up my now ancient and battered copy of Tinker and flicked through it one last time, remembering the first time I’d picked it up all those years ago. I did it with some kind of satisfied closure.

Then I put in on the bookshelf and wondered what to read next?

I just hoped whatever it was it wouldn’t take me thirty-odd years to understand it. I’m not sure I’d have the stamina to do all that again. Maybe some things should be left impenetrable!

Thanks for reading 🙂

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