I had never read John le Carré until last October. Technically, I still haven't, but I am convinced he is one of the top five British authors of the 20th Century.
Thanks to a splendid giveaway from The Guardian, I downloaded six unabridged novels, read by Michael Jayston, and have also watched the BBC's two Smiley series on DVD, featuring Sir Alec Guinness.
Jayston has been my constant companion on my fairly lengthy drive to work and it has been wonderful. I began, naturally I suppose, with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), a clear five star novel, faltered a little with Our Kind of Traitor (2010), which I fear showed a by then 79-year-old author struggling a little to capture authentic twenty-somethings, moved on to Smiley's People (1979) and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963). I am now quite a way into the hugely ambitious Perfect Spy (1986), which I am tempted to think is the best of the lot.
I will probably finish The Perfect Spy this week. My challenge then is to decide whether to start lsitening to The Honourable Schoolboy, or to finally read the paperback that has been on my TBR pile for three or four years?
Can I really bracket an author as a great when I have only heard his work? I have enjoyed my often incredibly dull and frustrating drives to work, but I am also concerned that it is not very easy to underline favourite passages in an audiobook. I could easily find myself buying all five books, just to note down the brilliantly observed descriptions of appearance and mannerisms, or the musings on the nature of loyalty and treachery that lift le Carré's work into the realms of true literary greatness.