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Summary

George Smiley is one of the most brilliantly realised characters in British fiction. Bespectacled, tubby, eternally middle-aged, and deceptively ordinary, he has a mind like a steel trap and is said to possess 'the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin'.

The Berlin Wall is down, the Cold War is over, but the world's second-oldest profession is very much alive. Smiley accepts an invitation to dine with the eager young men and women of the Circus' latest intake; and over coffee and brandy, by flickering firelight, he beguilingly offers them his personal thoughts on espionage past, present, and future. In doing so, he prompts one of his former Circus colleagues into a searching examination of his own eventful secret life.

©1991 David Cornwell (P)2014 Bolinda Publishing Pty Ltd.

What listeners say about The Secret Pilgrim

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A real mishmash!

To call this part of the Smiley series is scraping the barrel! As others have said a set ramblings, that may or may not create a coherent whole!?
Very disappointed.
Narration as always top notch!

12 people found this helpful

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Excellent

I’ve read pretty well all of John Le Carre’s books and I can honestly say that I think this is the best ( amongst a very strong field). It is kind of a set of short stories. Very easily digestible. And of course beautifully read by Michael Jayson, as ever.

6 people found this helpful

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The Last of the Summer Wine

Not a contination of the Smiley series, nor really a novel as such; more a series of vignettes neatly inserted into Smiley's back story. Most welcome in a 'hello old friend' kind of way. Michael Jayston is a brilliant narrator and seems to hit exactly the right note for Le Carre's books.

12 people found this helpful

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No Secret...

Written in a unique format: George Smiley memoirs via short stories about one of his loyal protégé, Ned and his endeavors to do good in the world. Pact with illuminated thoughts, full of substance, not an easy read. The best ones never are. Its conclusion is sobering: the Cold War after all may have been lost by the right people and won by the wrong. After defeating communism, now we are going to have to set about defeating capitalism that has turned sour; yet the Evil is not in the system, but in the man. Michael Jayston is superb.

11 people found this helpful

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A fine, character-based novel

‘The Secret Pilgrim’ is somewhat unusual in that it is really about a character — its central character Ned — rather than about a particular story. Formally the entire novel is structured around a final lecture delivered by George Smiley to the current intake at spy school. But really this is just the framework in which Ned, at the point of retirement, looks back over his career as an agent and relates (in the first person) the events and forces that formed him.

The Ned in question is the one from the previous novel, ‘The Russia House,’ published in 1989. The story really picks up from the end of that one, whilst intertwining with the Smiley series of novels, thus cleverly pulling two strands of le Carré’s fiction together.

In spite of there not being a central, event-based thread to the story, the telling and the characterization is interesting enough for this not to matter at all. Ned recounts numerous notable incidents which have shaped him, going back all the way to the pre-Fall days before Hayden was unmasked — another nod to the Smiley series — and there’s plenty here to keep the listener entertained. Also the first-person relating is handled far more convincingly here than it was in ‘The Russia House,’ where it had lots of obviously unknowable knowns.

Of all the incidents recounted by Ned, the one that really stands out for me is the Cyril Frewin account towards the end. This is an extremely long chapter (Chapter 11 in the book, covered by chapters 11 & 12 of the audio file) which single-handedly occupies almost 2½ hours, but is very interesting.

Michael Jayston’s narration is, as usual, stylist, fluent and engaging. Oddly, though, he does mispronounce on several occasions. For instance, in the first half of the book there is a character named Hele'na (thus stressed), whom he on one occasion pronounces as He'lena. In chapter 8 he twice pronounces the name of Don Quixote as ‘Quixott,’ as if not knowing that ‘quixotic’ comes from the name of the Spanish knight!

However, these are minor flaws. On the whole this is yet another excellent offering by le Carré, excellently narrated.

4 people found this helpful

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Getting dull

The early books were page turners, start to finish. This however is a minor spy telling his myriad stories as Smiley reminisces. It is a book of short stories in reality and not good for it. The narration is excellent and aside from wishing to get through all the books, being so close to the end, I wouldn't have bothered with this. Disappointed.

3 people found this helpful

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Highly Entertaining

one of the most entertaining books of the Smiley series.
with superb oratory as always

2 people found this helpful

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A joyful pilgrimage

Prophetic, poetic, magnificent. Le Carré is not only a master at exploring his own time and his own secret world, his insights stride prophetically into our own. And Michael Jayston is the perfect storyteller.

2 people found this helpful

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Another excellent John le Carré

Beautifully crafted and articulated. Every aspect just right. The story content and flow grip your attention whilst allowing you time to digest and appreciate the craftsmanship and plot. The opposite of the Tom Cruise style of impossible pap. A joy to listen to!

2 people found this helpful

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Can’t really go wrong with le Carré

Following on the heels of A Delicate Truth,it took a chapter to re-adjust to Michael Jayston’s narrative. While Le Carré reading is a hard act to follow, one quickly settles in, especially with an interesting series of plots. I prefer the pilgrim story over a Delicate Truth the ending of which leaves one wanting ....

2 people found this helpful

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  • Catherine
  • 02-04-12

Excellently read finale for Smiley

This collection of short stories is primarily for the Le Carre completist, referring as it does to characters and events from his earlier work, mainly occurring in the Karla trilogy and The Russia House, the full significance of which would be lost on a first time Le Carre reader. The structure is a little laboured, relying on Smiley's reminiscences to a graduating class of new secret service recruits to trigger corresponding memories of the narrator Ned's experiences of life as a spy which are a little too conveniently packaged into extended anecdotes. I'd imagine this creaky device would grate on the written page - it's certainly a sad retreat from the ingenious interweaving timelines of Tinker Tailor -but it's a tribute to Michael Jayston's brilliant performance that Le Carre just about gets away with it. Considering the several unforgettable character studies Le Carre had created by this point in his career Ned emerges as rather colourless and derivative, an ersatz Peter Guillam unfortunately lacking Peter's charisma. The stories themselves are undeniably entertaining but appear just a touch too neat and easily resolved to the die-hard Le Carre fan, a sort of M16 Tales of the Unexpected. They also show a tendency to recycle plot devices, character types and motifs from earlier, better novels. (A trivial but telling example is the remarkable coincidence of several of his jaded heroes in this and other later novels having tricky relationships with estranged sons who are invariably called Adrian - did neither Le Carre nor his editor notice the repetition?) Ironically, considering his reputation as the master Cold War chronicler, the fall of the Berlin Wall may have come at just the right time to prompt him to find fresh themes and settings. Michael Jayston works wonders with the occasionally threadbare material to give one of his best performances as a Le Carre narrator, which is high praise considering his many fantastic readings of Le Carre's work, and is the main reason for my high overall rating for this audiobook. He approaches the material with utter conviction and succeeds wonderfully in not only creating dozens of distinct characters but in setting a haunting tone of regret and loss that I don't think would have fully emerged from the page alone. He also deserves a medal for his sensitive treatment of what could have been an excruciatingly embarrassing sex scene in the second story, bravo!

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  • Karl
  • 12-06-15

Another great book from Le Carre

A more varied and diversified story compared to Tinker Taylor of Smileys People, but still intense and thrilling. A great book!

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  • Mary-Anne
  • 20-03-12

Brilliant, just brilliant

What did you like about this audiobook?

Brilliant, just brilliant.

How has the book increased your interest in the subject matter?

Absolutely, John Le Carre has always done that.

Does the author present information in a way that is interesting and insightful, and if so, how does he achieve this?

They were fascinating & scary times to live through in real time and Le Carre's novels set the tone of the times so well.

What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?

Nothing!

Do you have any additional comments?

I have really enjoyed Michael Jayston's reading of all the Le Carre novels and I am following him to other authors I may not have read in hard copy books, but will now listen to.