Le Carré’s ‘Call For The Dead’ is a first novel remarkable not simply for its tight plot and acute characterisation, but its presentation of a profoundly realised central character and a universe-sized backstory delivered whole and seamless at the first sight – Smiley & the Circus.
Even looking back across 8 books and 60 years, they are born perfectly formed and consistent, without need for surreptitious nip and tuck as the stories develop. (NB – those with deeper re-readings and finer attention to detail are more than welcome to correct me on this).
Early on, Le Carré makes it clear that Smiley (& his readers) inhabit a diminished world – the nephilim of the Circus, giants who were on the earth of old, have all departed. Jebedee and Steed-Asprey have vanished, and George is left the lees to brag of. The choice of names is masterful – one sounds like an Old Testament prophet, the other a bowler-hatted toff run amuck in a high-class jeweller’s. Smiley is their relict, and the novels chronicle the long, unstemmable tide of national decline. One of Lawrence Durrell’s characters remarked – ‘It is the duty of a patriot to hate his country creatively’. Le Carré raises that creativity to a pinnacle that is unsurpassed.