Soldier

Hello Ordinary Readers! This is the second recap of the Ordinary Times book club for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, covering Part II (the second third of the book).1 We hope we aren’t going too fast for anyone.  If we are, please skip down to the comments and let us know.  Also, as usual with book club posts, try to avoid spoilering the rest of the book in the comment threads (use the handy-dandy spoiler code, rot13, or some other means of avoiding spoilers, if  you need to).  Thanks and we hope you are enjoying this as much as we are!

To recap where we were at the end of Part I:

  • Connie Sachs has corroborated part of Ricki Tarr’s mole story. If there is a Gerald, Polyakov is exactly who would be running him.
  • Peter Guillam has infiltrated London Station, and found it in an uproar, with the logs about Tarr’s communications having been destroyed.
  • Jim Prideaux has discovered that he’s being watched, and he’s furious.

In Part II, we continue to move back and forth in time. Smiley finds a secluded lair and begins his investigations, which, very un-James-Bond-like, consist largely of reading documents and making notes, with the occasional in-person interview of a former acquaintance. Derring-do and suspense are involved only when documents need to be stolen from the Circus, which is Peter Guillam’s job. Alleline and the others are suspicious of Guillam, and even interrogate him about his connection to Tarr, but he brazens it out.

As his reading makes Smiley recall the past, bit and pieces of the story get filled in. The head of the Circus, Control2, always despised Percy Alleline3, so when Alleline developed a top-level Soviet source4, Control was determined to prove it was a fake or a plant. He dispatched Smiley, his second-in-command, to persuade the other section heads at the Circus of this. Unfortunately, the Circus had fallen on hard times: their networks of agents being arrested or killed, their ability to produce intelligence quite low, so Witchcraft came as a godsend and they’re not in the mood to be skeptical.

Alleline proceeded to make it as clear as possible that Witchcraft was his personal triumph, creating special channels and procedures for viewing its results, the unstated but strongly implied reasoning being that the rest of the Circus would be unable to keep it secure and get Merlin blown. In response, Control all but locked himself in his office with the Circus files, determined to find the evidence that will demolish Witchcraft.5

Control also decided to run a covert op all by himself, keeping it secret from the rest of the Circus. We don’t yet know what it’s about or how it relates to Witchcraft, but it’s called Testify and it consists of sending Jim Prideaux to Czechoslovakia. It’s a complete disaster; the result is Prideaux immediately being detected and shot, causing at least most of the injuries has now6, and Control and Smiley being fired, with Alleline as the new chief.

In present time, we see Smiley interview three former Circus operatives: Sam Collins, whom Control had pulled in as duty officer during the weekend that Testify took place; Jerry Westerby, a journalist/occasional spy that had heard a strange story about Testify while covering a soccer match in Prague; and Max, a Czech expatriate who had been the other half of Testify but had gotten away.7 All contribute evidence that the details of Testify were known to the Soviets before Prideaux even left England.

As if this weren’t bad enough, we learn some sad details of Smiley’s private life. His wife Ann has never been faithful to him.8 They somehow reached an accommodation, which she had lately broken all the rules of. She had an affair, not with her usual actors and athletes, but with one of Smiley’s colleagues at the Circus, the dashing Bill Haydon. Moreover, they slept together in Smiley’s house, and allowed the affair to become common knowledge, a constant source of humiliation to Smiley.

One other recollection stands out. Smiley had once interviewed Karla, now head of Moscow Centre, the Soviet equivalent of the Circus. At the time, Karla was as far as Smiley knew simply a captured spy who would probably be shot if sent back to Russia. Smiley offered Karla some inducements to defect, but he refused to respond. Smiley, somehow sensing a kindred soul, all but begged him to accept, but Karla stayed silent, was deported, and managed to kill and replace the head of Soviet intelligence. Smiley realizes that while Karla gave nothing away, Smiley had unintentionally bared his weaknesses to an enemy. Karla also got away with an engraved lighter that Ann had given Smiley.

Piecing all of this together, because his lack of ability to deal with people well enough to be a successful husband or human being is matched only by his brilliance in understanding them in the context of espionage, Smiley realizes that there’s a connection between Merlin and Gerald. Witchcraft is a plant, designed to make the Circus look effective and hide the fact that it’s been infiltrated by a highly placed mole. Merlin is supplying just enough information to the Circus to ensure that more valuable information continues to flow the other way. But who is the mole?

Image by danxoneil Notes:

  1. The first can be found here. []
  2. Apparently no one there knows his real name. This seems unlikely to me: didn’t they have tax withholding and a pension plan? []
  3. Out of a combination of justified disdain, personal dislike, and simple snobbery. []
  4. Source: Merlin. Intelligence produced: Witchcraft. []
  5. This is oddly similar to what Smiley is doing now, except that Smiley isn’t neglecting his real job. And he’s much better at it. []
  6. As an enemy spy, he was most likely treated none too gently after being captured, which may account for others. []
  7. We’ll meet the first two again in the sequel The Honourable Schoolboy. []
  8. She’s very lovely, and he was odd and unattractive even as a young man, making it hard to know what she saw in him, except perhaps someone who would always forgive her. []

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5 thoughts on “Soldier

  1. One thing I sort of enjoyed was, upon finally meeting Percy Alleline in person, Le Carré doesn’t take the easy American way of constructing a narrative. We’ve encountered plenty of snobbery aimed at Alleline before, resentment that he’s rising above his station in life and grasping at a knighthood for which others feel his blood is insufficiently blue. So in a story written with an American sensibility, Alleline would be highly competent, having earned his way to the top; he’d be the one whose intent is good all along, a patriot and either a hero or a stand-up guy who comes through in the end. We’d like him and see the more genteel Englishmen in the Circus as snobs who need to get the hell over themselves.

    But in fact, Alleline is more than a bit of an asshole. Smiley’s assessment of him as a grasper, someone battling his own internal feelings of inferiority feels right. Which doesn’t necessarily make him the traitor, but also doesn’t necessarily exclude him from being the traitor, either.

    I’m going to go on in the spoilered section below to say who I think Gerald is.

    Now, seems to me that we’re being set up to think that not only is Merlin running Gerald (rather the other way around) but we also kind of want Alleline to wind up being Gerald because Alleline is so disagreeable. Gerald is obviously very good at this spying business, and someone who is intimately involved in Witchcraft, so that there are really only two candidates — Percy Alleline, who runs the op, or Bill Haydon, who goes out in the field to retrieve the information. As narrative hints and general dislike point to Alleline, my money is on Haydon. Haydon is the one going to all sorts of places across Europe to meet the multiple “Merlins” who are probably really only couriers from the Moscow Centre being run by Karla.

    Which makes me wonder if Haydon’s affair with Smiley’s easily-seducable wife is part of Karla’s plan: having brought down Control by drying out or eliminating all of Control’s sources, and then having made the Circus dependent upon Witchcraft as its primary source of information, Karla directs Gerald to neutralize Smiley by hitting him where he is most vulnerable: by cuckolding him. Now, this may all turn out to be as wild a speculation as R2-D2 being the true leader of the Rebel Alliance, but that’s where my mind is now.

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