Has spy­mas­ter Smi­ley fi­nally gone se­nile?

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Comment -

I THINK John le Carré is one of our best modern nov­el­ists, who hap­pens to write about spies. But, let’s put this po­litely, his great­est works were those he wrote some years back. I’m a lit­tle baf­fled by the praise for his lat­est, A Legacy Of Spies.

Could it be be­cause of this pas­sage, in which the great spy­mas­ter Ge­orge Smi­ley starts rav­ing about Europe. ‘What was it all for… I’m a European… If I had a mis­sion – if I was ever aware of one be­yond our business with the en­emy, it was to Europe. If I was heart­less, I was heart­less for Europe. If I had an unattain­able ideal, it was of lead­ing Europe out of her dark­ness to­wards a new age of rea­son. I have it still.’

Pah! Le Carré cer­tainly never liked the USA much, but his keen­ness to turn his char­ac­ters into pas­sion­ate Re­main­ers is a bit new. Smi­ley first ap­pears in Call For The Dead, a 1961 novel long pre­dat­ing our ‘European’ en­tan­gle­ment. It de­scribes Smi­ley’s early years as a lonely se­cret agent in 1930s Ger­many, thus ‘Smi­ley was a sen­ti­men­tal man and the long ex­ile strength­ened his deep love of Eng­land’.

Maybe the Europhilia is some­thing to do with se­nil­ity. By my cal­cu­la­tion, Smi­ley, who was first hired by MI6 in 1928, must now be 110.

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