This book offers one of the best insights into the politics of throttling intelligence I've read in a very long time.
Having been a long time fan of John Le Carre's books, I looked forward to enjoying another leisurely voyage into the hearts and minds of his fascinating characters.
The Honourable Schoolboy lived up to my expectations, yet in some ways it disappointed me. The plot is complex enough to keep the reader thoroughly engaged, yet not get lost in Byzantine characterizations.
The Setting-Great Britain: George Smiley, fresh off the discovery of a "mole" inside the hallowed halls of the British Intelligence Service-affectionately dubbed "The Circus" has been tasked with repairing the damage and restoring the tarnished reputation of the service he so loves. In addition, he must find a way to restore relations with their American counterparts known as the "Cousins".
Operating with a limited budget and a skeleton staff, George, between making certain no remaining saboteurs are still operating, is desperately seeking a goldmine to kick start the process of rehabbing his agency. Calling his most reliable people out of "mothballs", he tasks them with following certain leads.
Hong Kong: A lazy Sunday, and a group of journalists are sitting idly, waiting for something-anything, to happen. The startling news that High Haven, the British Intelligence house is empty, all gone- no goodbyes-nothing. Only one of them present will discover a truth that leads to the biggest find in terms of intelligence, in a very long time. And the chase is on.
Italy: Jerry Westerby, the impoverished son of an aristocrat, and a British intelligence agent, is working fruitlessly on his novel, and chafing under the idleness of forced exile. Yet when a telegram arrives summoning him "home", he has mixed feelings about what this might mean.
The characters in The Honourable Schoolboy are rich and fully realized for the most part. Jerry Westerby-The Honourable Schoolboy, is basically a noble man with very human failings. As an agent, he possesses superb talent and an innate sense of what matters. Even though he must do distasteful things in order to complete his missions, Jerry never loses his sense of humanity. He is George Smiley, fully realized.
Peter Guillam, as George Smiley's cupbearer is a very flawed human being. What matters to Peter is purely political and involves protecting Smiley and himself from disgrace.
Old Craw- an old Hong Kong hand, journalist and agent for the Circus is one of the best in the book. In his speech he gives to young trainees at the school for agents, he demonstrates a clear understanding of how a real field agent handles his assets.
George Smiley. Here is one of the areas that fell down in my opinion. George come across as soulless, humorless and very one dimensional. His character is almost robotic, unlike prior novels that featured him. To George anything and everyone is expendable, in his quest for the truth. He comes across as a zealot without scruples.
Unlike the other characters I've mentioned, the American "Cousins" are depicted in hard, flat emotionless planes. Since even the villains of this work have humane sides, I feel Le Carre allowed his personal dislikes to color his depictions here.
The Honourable Schoolboy is a thoroughly enjoyable read, encompassing much of Asia: Hong Kong, China, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. It is a cynical commentary on how our intelligence agencies operated in a pre-9-11 theater, and a sad commentary on how we treat each other.