The Secret Pilgrim by John le Carré

Category Republished

I have just finished listening to this. One of the things I enjoy about reading John le Carré is the wonderful way he describes people. The inclination of a head, the half closed eyes, the back held stiff, pudgy fingers pressed into the eyes. George Smiley is a masterpiece. There is a flatness in the description that draws you in, an economy of emotion that creates its own tension. Ned’s interrogation of Cyril Fruin for instance. Ned sits on a chair and smokes a pipe and all the while stringing Fruin along – keeping the momentum going. And Cyril talks. For spying is a game that involves people, individuals with needs and wants and hopes. Ned’s life walks alongside those he is called on to manage or to extract information. And in the end Ned retires to the seaside with Mabel, his long-suffering wife.

It is the final story when Ned is asked to confront Bradshaw, a boorish, nasty piece of work who will sell anything to anyone, guns, drugs, you name it for as he says, h=if he does not, someone else will. All his working life, Ned has been a spy, and the rules of engagement are clearly defined. The enemy is obvious and good and evil are minor players. But here in the last story, two days before Ned retires is the bridge between the cold war Smiley stories and the new geo-political stories, such as the Constant Gardner. Ned reflects on the nature of Bradshaw and the nature of evil. Here is the new enemy to be challenged, the power of the multi-national, of men seeking to dominate the world , men who lust for power without the responsibility of managing a state. The stage is set for the next act as Ned leaves and evil stalks the world. The cold war is over, but new challenges face all of us.

Published: July 3, 2012