Three old favourites by John le Carré

Let me begin by saying that I don’t usually read spy thrillers. So the fact that I’ve not only read several John le Carré novels, but have some of them on my “favourite books” list, is quite remarkable.

For years John le Carré’s novels had been on our bookshelf (Willie is a fan), but I’d not paid them any attention. Then I began to see film adaptations of his books. First, The Tailor of Panama and then The Constant Gardener. I enjoyed both films a lot. The Constant Gardener is one of my favourite films ever. It occurred to me then that what made them so good was the excellent story telling. Although I have not read many of John le Carré’s “real” spy novels i.e. his Cold War books, I’ve really enjoyed his other books. Three of my all time favourites are The Little Drummer Girl (1983), The Constant Gardener (2001) and The Honourable Schoolboy (1977 – which is in fact one of the “Cold War” books).

Unlike a lot of other thriller writers, le Carré concentrates on the story, characters and place, rather than high-tech gadgetry. Which means that even though the books were written a while back, they don’t seem dated.

The Constant Gardener

Cover - The Constant Gardener

Frightening, heartbreaking, and exquisitely calibrated, John le Carré’s novel opens with the gruesome murder of the young and beautiful Tessa Quayle near northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the birthplace of mankind. Her putative African lover and travelling companion, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has vanished from the scene of the crime. Tessa’s much older husband, Justin, a career diplomat at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive. What he might know and what he ultimately learns make him suspect among his own colleagues and a target for the profiteers who killed his wife.

From Bookbrowse

With a major portion of the story being played out in Africa, including beautiful descriptions of Africa and its people, this naturally became a favourite of mine. The film version is beautifully filmed – well worth watching just for the imagery. John le Carré himself has said of the film adaptation of The Constant Gardener: “The job of the movie as far as I’m concerned – the novelist – is to take the minimum intention of the novel and illustrate it with the maximum of freedom. In movie language, in movie grammar. There’s hardly a line left,there’s hardly a scene intact that comes from my book, yet I don’t know of a better translation from novel to film.” Reading the book after watching the film, added depth to my understanding of the story.

Review on

Review by Bill Bennet

The Little Drummer Girl

In this thrilling and thought-provoking novel of Middle Eastern intrigue, Charlie, a brilliant and beautiful young EnglishCover - The Little Drummer Girl actress, is lured into “the theatre of the real” by an Israeli intelligence officer. Forced to play her ultimate role, she is plunged into a deceptive and delicate trap set to ensnare an elusive Palestinian terrorist.

What especially interested me about this book is that the situation in the Middle East has changed so little since the book was published in 1983. It could easily have been set in more recent years.

You can read the Kirkus Review of The Little Drummer Girl here.

The Honourable Schoolboy

Cover - The Honourable SchoolboyIn the wake of a demoralizing infiltration by a Soviet double agent, Smiley has been made ringmaster of the Circus (aka the British Secret Service). Determined to restore the organization’s health and reputation, and bent on revenge, Smiley thrusts his own handpicked operative into action. Jerry Westerby, “The Honourable Schoolboy,” is dispatched to the Far East. A burial ground of French, British, and American colonial cultures, the region is a fabled testing ground of patriotic allegiances and a new showdown is about to begin.

Although this book is one of le Carré’s more conventional spy novels, I enjoyed as the Kirkus review puts it “the intricacies of “tradecraft,” the loaf-and-lurch lives of newsmen abroad, the anti-travelogue Asian backgrounds.

Review on Mount Helicon Review

Review on Kirkus

Have you read any John le Carré novels and enjoyed them?


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Categories: Random


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24 Comments on “Three old favourites by John le Carré”

  1. February 13, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    I love these kind of books. Am downloading ASAP. Thanks for posting this “out of the ordinary” post!

    • February 13, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      I do hope you enjoy them. One thing I forgot to say, is that they are quite “British”! 🙂

  2. February 13, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    The constant gardener was one of my favorite movies too. I`ve read some of his novels, my mother loved the genre and every time I wanted to read something, I just asked her for a book, she always had a new one.

    • February 14, 2013 at 7:39 am #

      Fernando Meirelles did a wonderful job of directing The Constant Gardener. How nice that you and your mother could share books.

      • February 17, 2013 at 10:28 am #

        She was a heavy reader!! and so was I …

  3. Eha
    February 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    Now I DO love intelligent ‘spy’ novels! Have read all of John le Carre and enjoyed every one. ‘The Little Drummer Girl’ was probably the first. I too sometimes discover an author after seeing a movie, but basically prefer the written word every time! And many of the best of the genre WERE written when the world was a simpler place . . .

    • February 14, 2013 at 7:46 am #

      I think John le Carre writes beautifully, and as you say his novels are intelligent. I’ve read a lot of other novels which I quickly forget, but the le Carre novels always stay with me.

      Obviously a film can never include all the details of a novel, but I’ve seen quite a few adaptations, and cannot remember one that I found horribly disappointing. In fact, there was one book I read, where I preferred the film adaptation! See:

      • Eha
        February 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

        Sugar, I forgot my favourite Ralph Fiennes was in ‘Constant Gardner’ – and I have also fibbed ’cause that is one JlC I have not read ! Probably the reason I said what I did 🙂 ! I looked up your link and do agree with you on four clearly remembered : ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Room with a View’, the very unusual ‘Passage to India’ and AP’s ‘Shipping News’, a book I thoroughly loved made into a film I did enjoy!! Well, you’ve made me think 😀 !

      • February 15, 2013 at 7:16 am #

        Ah yes, Ralph Fiennes . . . 😉

        I’ve never believed that a film adaptation has to be an exact replica of the book. And often when I see a film first – and liked it – I have a mental image when I eventually read the book.

  4. February 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    I’ll be sure to check these books out, especially The Constant Gardener! Thanks for the tip 🙂

    • February 14, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      I hope that you enjoy The Constant Gardener. Did you see the film adaptation?

      • February 15, 2013 at 11:39 am #

        No I haven’t yet….but I have a list of ‘to watch’ films for this year and this film is now on it!! 🙂

  5. Colleen
    February 13, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    I’ve been a long time fan of his writing and books even though spy thrillers are not my usual choice when it comes to reading. Have always appreciated his storytelling and his writing 🙂

    • February 14, 2013 at 7:49 am #

      Yes, le Carre’s is a master at storytelling and I also love how he writes. Interesting to me that the comments on this post has been from women who enjoy the le Carre novels.

  6. February 13, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    My literary agent is also John Le Carre’s agent (it was a miracle that she took me on) so I’m a BIG time John Le Carre fan! So loved Constant Gardener … thanks for sharing!!

    • February 14, 2013 at 7:50 am #

      Wow, how wonderful to share an agent with should a distinguished author! Although, I’m not totally surprised that she took you on – you’re also a talented writer.

  7. February 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Loved Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener. One of my main early impetuses for wanting to visit Africa– loved the storytelling and scenery.

    • February 14, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      Oh yes, I can’t really imagine anyone else but Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes playing the title roles. The African scenery in the film was stunning – if I didn’t live here, I’d want to come here too! 🙂

  8. February 14, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    Goodness, I’m always looking for new things to read. Thankfully, I’ve read none of these. Thanks for the recommendations, Lisa!

    • February 14, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      Hi Kathy! I think you’ll find le Carre’s writing very good. And he’s a wonderful storyteller.

  9. February 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    I read ‘The Constant Gardener’ and saw the movie – both thoroughly enjoyable. Also enjoyed the movie of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, which came out last year.

    • February 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Hi Bluebee! I also saw “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”, but in this case would advise reading the book before seeing the movie. The movie was more cryptic than the other le Carre adaptations.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! 🙂

  10. February 25, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    I read all the George Smiley novels back in the day, and was pleasantly surprised that le Carre was able to adapt s well to a changing world. Absolute Friends was as good as any of his cold-war spy novels, and I also really liked The Constant Gardener. I haven’t seen any of the movies, though.

    • February 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

      I suppose that as an “ex-spy”, John le Carre understands that whole world and the changes in it very well. Thanks for the “Absolute Friends” tip – I was wondering which of his books to read next. I think the movies they have made of his books are worth seeing.

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