The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré

The Honourable Schoolboy was my first John Le Carré book and second spy novel. I was not disappointed. It won both The James Tait Black Memorial Award and The C.W.A Golden Dagger Award.

Plot

The UK’s Secret Intelligence Service has been decimated by a Russian double agent. The meditative George Smiley sets out to rebuild the department and take down a Russian spy in Hong Kong which will take him closer to gaining his revenge over Karla, the Russian boss who drove the department’s downfall. Jerry Westerby, the Honourable Schoolboy, son of a Lord, writer and part-time SIS man heads east to ‘shake the tree’ and catch whatever falls out.

Characters

I loved the main characters and after a while didn’t want the Westerby scenes to end. He was an affable and intelligent James Bond character thrown into an Apocalypse Now(-ish) setting. I enjoyed learning more about him as the novel progressed and loved how his Sarratt training and own intuition guided him. Secondary characters were well placed and round enough to make them memorable and interesting.

I particularly liked Charlie Marshall, and the quite tender scene he and Westerby shared, Keller the American, who smokes with a welded claw and even Tiu who had just enough colour to make him seem real. The only character I didn’t take to was Fawn, Smiley’s plastic henchman who seemed a bit pointless. As this is the second book in the Karla series, I wonder if he played a bigger role in the first or was used to add some flavour to the Smiley scenes; towards the end I found Smiley’s quiet thoughtfulness and reticence a bit tiresome and wanted more life out of him.

Setting

The scenes along the Mekong, Bangkok and Phnom penh transported me straight back to that area and let me reminisce about the Sultry nights, rainy days and hazy sunsets. Different to mine however, Le Carré’s Mekong was gripped by the chaos of war with the Khmer Rouge. Hong Kong and its inhabitants were also well depicted. The author paid a lot of attention to detail.

Conclusion

Although I really enjoyed this book, the ending wasn’t all I had hoped for; what happened seemed out of character for one of the protagonists and I feel like the author rushed to get his theme out which was along the lines of exploring the battle between personal desire, loyalty and ambition with the bigger-picture sacrifice of your wants for the needs of your team and country and with politics linked throughout.

The Honourable Schoolboy is the middle novel in The Karla Trilogy, so the author will be setting up the third. Therefore, this may have detracted from the ending to make for a more thrilling third book.

I give this novel 4 stars.

Photo of paperback copy of The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre surrounded by leaves collected during the reading.

I read this book in Tokyo, Thailand, Amsterdam, Scotland and Kazakhstan. The mementos around in the picture were collected from those locations – the leaves are from Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi Park and Long Beach on Koh Lanta.

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Classics Club Book List

The first classic book I read was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It set the bar for what I wanted from books and fiction. 21 years on, I’ve read a few classics but there are so many I already own or know about but have put off reading either because I need to read books as research for my own writing, or because… actually, looking at my ‘read’ list on Goodreads, most of what I’ve read could be classed as classics, therefore I’m just a slow, lazy reader who needs to read more. I’ve joined The Classics Club to help me do that and to get a deeper perspective on each book by reading reviews by smarter people. 50 books over 5 years.

My Classics Club Book List

(not in the order of reading)

  • 1 Ulysses
  • 2 The Fountainhead
  • 3 Anna Karenina
  • 4 The Brothers Karamazov
  • 5 Don Quixote
  • 6 War and Peace
  • 7 The Pilgrim’s Progress
  • 8 Beyond Good and Evil
  • 9 Native Son by Richard Wright
  • 10 Hazlit Selected Writings
  • 11 Fathers and Sons
  • 12 The Trial
  • 13 The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • 14 Eugene Onegin
  • 15 Steppenwolf
  • 16 The Glass Bead Game
  • 17 Invisible Man
  • 18 The Thirty-Nine Steps
  • 19 Frankenstein
  • 20 Wuthering Heights
  • 21 Jane Eyre
  • 22 Perfume
  • 23 The interpretation of Dreams
  • 24 The Castle
  • 25 For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • 26 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • 27 Bastard out of Carolina
  • 28 Treasure Island
  • 29 In Watermelon Sugar
  • 30 Wide Sargasso Sea
  • 31 Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • 32 The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • 33 Les Misreables
  • 34 Macbeth
  • 35 Ada
  • 36 The Iron Heel
  • 37 Darkness at Noon
  • 38 In Cold Blood
  • 39 The Castle
  • 40 Howl
  • 41 The Tempest
  • 42 The War of the Worlds
  • 43 Paradise Lost
  • 44 Pride and Prejudice
  • 45 To the Lighthouse
  • 46 Stoner
  • 47 Death of a Salesman
  • 48 The Myth of Sisyphus
  • 49 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  • 50 Goodbye to Berlin
  • 51 The Honourable Schoolboy

Rating System

I use the Goodreads.com rating system:

  • 1 star: did not like it
  • 2 stars: it was okay
  • 3 Stars: liked it
  • 4 Stars: really liked it
  • 5 Stars: it was amazing

P.S.

Looking for something different to read? Check out my novel Vagabundo. It’s been getting some good feedback since I released it in June 2019. Although it’s cheap, you might not even have to buy it. I’ve been taking it around the world. Pop into your nearest hostel to see if it’s there.