Sadly, John le Carr√© has died, and everyone is asking which of his numerous spy novels is his best? The thing with le Carr√© is that every book you have just started reading is his best. There were a few exceptions if you ask me: for example, the two first novels as well as The Night Manager, a flawed book that made a brilliant TV miniseries as flawed books tend to do. I had hoped there would be one more, one more brilliant John le Carr√© (not like his last two that seemed rather recycled). One like his first big success, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963), a story with a bite. I hoped for a devastating novel about the Trump era. A justified hope, I thought, as Americans are always shown as dangerous blunderers, "deplorables" among le Carr√©'s Secret Service agents.
My favorite John le Carr√© is the one out of competition, his recent autobiography, The Pigeon Tunnel, with the devastating portrait of his con man father. However, one of the novels stands out as the most stylish and the most difficult to read: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. (1974) Who is who, what is what, what is going on? The reader has a hard time making it out, a hard time making headway because of having to go back and then back again and then some, in order to find a clue that might explain the page/s he started out from. A certain help perhaps is given by the eponymous BBC TV series from 1979 with Alec Guiness famously embodying George Smiley, le Carre's favorite and most brilliant spymaster (who appears in eight of his books).
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I decided one day, is so hermetic that Gertrude Stein could have written it. Stein loved detective stories and detective stories are very much like spy stories. She even wrote one herself: Blood on the Dining-Room Floor (1933).
I happened to be the German translator of this "murder mystery" and can vouch for the fact that Stein's novel is as dense and impenetrable as le Carr√©'s. The caustic, hermetic style of both books seems to reflect the absurdity of trying to detect anything at all.
We know that all mysteries have one thing in common: if it wasn't the butler it was the gardener; if it wasn't the tailor it was the tinker, soldier or the spy. The apparent pleasure in absurdity and paradox shared in these two novels made me want to fuse their texts in a way that lets Stein deliver her own take on le Carr√©'s novel. Stein never wrote a single book review, but I am sure she would have read le Carr√©'s spy story with pleasure. After all, it often reads like true Steinese.
Here then is Stein's book review-- perhaps better called a "book portrait" written by Stein's ghost (85% taken from Blood on the Dining-Room Floor, Picasso, and The Making of Americans), 15% taken from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (with a 5% help from yours truly).
The photo collage is 50% Stein and 50% Alec Guinness as le Carr√©'s spymaster Smiley.
John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Reviewed by Gertrude Stein
This was not an accident and it was mentioned.
To try and cry and not to smile. To try and not inherit not now now and now and meek and beg her then, fillet it fold her names and diagrams and special sauces. Light the lamps and code the merlin which is craft. Kindly treat them as if they were your own.
Then someone went out to start a car. The telephone was not working that was a fact.
And also and so and so and also.
If he told them would they like it would they like it if he told them. Would he tell them would he like it. If they told him would he smile it.
Shutters shut and open, so do queens. Shutters shut and shutters and so shutters shot shot and so, and so shutters. And so shutters shut and so and also. And also and so and so and also.
Feeling full for it. Exactitude is king. So to beseech so as for it. Exactly or as kings.
He was one who had observing coming out of him. He had observing being coming out of him. He certainly was one observing. He was then observing them. He was not any one. Of them. He had observing coming out of him. He certainly was observing her then.
Being observing Inningham busses only the wrong way staring. Left station lift leaning London, Karla and Bill and also. Left sharing everything another man's woman. Genius is not another man's woman, not many men's woman who were boys together. Shop-soiled white hope and redbrick of and out of control. Turning his back turning him back back and in turn. Can a dog betray a circus. Dead is dead as is as can be. Dead.
All please smile a face which smiled in case that she did mind. For which if she did mind.
A little come they which they can be married to a man, a young enough man and an old man and a young enough man.
No and yes.
Any one saying no could be known to come to be left out. Out of what. Out of service. Not any one could leave ingratiating. Not any beg her man. Just which they smile or order which they smile.
After a while it is all known. Not three are changed for three. Neither or or either, or there.
Tank her tail her scold her cry. Build away with neither as a guess. There is no further guess. Thank you for anxiously.
No one is amiss after servants are changed.