Tuesday, November 3, 2020

On the Coffee Table: The Honourable Schoolboy

Title: The Honourable Schoolboy
Author: John le Carré
The Honourable Schoolboy is the sixth George Smiley book and the second in the Karla Trilogy.  After taking down Bill Haydon in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (my review here), George is welcomed back to the Circus, greeted by a massive clean-up job.  Looking to get back in the game, the Circus sends Jerry Westerby, a sports writer and occasional operative, to Hong Kong to look into a money-laundering operation based in Laos, possibly linked to Karla, George's KGB nemesis.

Unlike the other two books in the trilogy, Schoolboy has never been adapted to film, largely because of the prohibitive travel budget required.  The story is a romp through 1970s Southeast Asia, with stops in Bangkok, Vientiane, Saigon and Phnom Penh just to name a few.  It's a fascinating/terrifying time period in the region's history and a most enjoyable exploration for an Asia-phile like myself.  

As always, character development is le Carré's genius.  This time, Westerby is the new central specimen, though he was introduced in the previous book.  Things get really interesting, narrative-wise, when George's and Jerry's objectives come into opposition.  It's hard to know whom to root for when one's sympathies lie on both sides.

Le Carré's books are rarely tidy, particularly the endings.  I think spoilers are okay for a book published in 1977.  Westerby's death makes his whole story seem desperate and pointless, perhaps marginally more glamorous than Leamas's in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, though not by much.  Furthermore, even though the main objective is achieved, it's not entirely clear in the end whether George himself was successful in managing the operation.  While this ambiguity can be frustrating from the reader's perspective, it makes the point of the author's broader purpose: Ian Fleming was full of it.  In reality, the spy game sucks.

Up next: Smiley's People.


  1. This will go on my TBR pile--the 70s in Southeast Asia is enough to draw me into a spy mystery (Ithey're not generally my genre).

  2. All I can say, again, is that I intend to get to these at some point.

    1. I don't know if I'd add this to the must-read list. Only two titles on that list so far: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.