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.


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.


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.


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.


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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