‘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.