Smiley's People

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Guillam had known Berlin when it was the world capital of the Cold War, when every crossing point from East to West had the tenseness of a major surgical operation.

Smiley's People (1979) is a spy novel by John le Carré, the third in his trilogy featuring George Smiley and the Soviet spymaster Karla, following Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy. Smiley's People was dramatized as a six-part serial for television for the BBC in 1982 as a sequel to the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy mini-series, again starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley.


  • Two seemingly unconnected events heralded the summons of Mr. George Smiley from his dubious retirement. The first had for its background Paris, and for a season the boiling month of August, when Parisians by tradition abandon their city to the scalding sunshine and the busloads of packaged tourists.
    • chapter 1 (opening paragraph)
  • The second of the two events that brought George Smiley from his retirement occurred a few weeks after the first, in early autumn of the same year: not in Paris at all, but in the once ancient, free, and Hanseatic city of Hamburg, now almost pounded to death by the thunder of its own prosperity; yet it remains true that nowhere does the summer fade more splendidly than along the gold and orange banks of the Alster, which nobody as yet has drained or filled with concrete.
    • chapter 2
  • The two men had been together for fifteen minutes but this was the Superintendent's first question. For a while Smiley did not seem to hear it, but his silence was not offensive, he had the gift of quiet. Besides, there is a companionship about two men contemplating a corpse.
    • chapter 3
The second of the two events that brought George Smiley from his retirement occurred…in the once ancient, free, and Hanseatic city of Hamburg.
  • The Superintendent called softly to the trees, where his men stood among their blacked-out cars like a next generation waiting for its turn.
    • chapter 3
  • "Thank you," said Smiley again.
    And a moment later, with more ease than his portly figure might have suggested him capable of, he had vanished among the trees. But not before the Superintendent had shone the torch full upon his face, a thing he hadn't done till now for reasons of discretion. And taken an intense professional look at the legendary features, if only to tell his grandchildren in his old age: how George Smiley, sometime Chief of the Secret Service, by then retired, had one night come out of the woodwork to peer at some dead foreigner of his who had died in highly nasty circumstances.
    Not one face at all actually, the Superintendent reflected. Not when it was lit by the torch like that indirectly from below. More your whole range of faces. More your patchwork of different ages, people and endeavours.
    • chapter 3
  • "The best I ever met," old Mendel, the Superintendent's one-time superior, had told him over a friendly pint not long ago. Mendel was retired now, like Smiley. But Mendel knew what he was talking about and didn't like Funnies any better than the Superintendent did—interfering la-di-da amateurs most of them, and devious with it. But not Smiley. Smiley was different, Mendel had said. Smiley was the best—simply the best case man Mendel had ever met—and old Mendel knew what he was talking about.
    • chapter 3
  • There was another thing about that face the Superintendent wouldn't easily forget either. Later, he talked to old Mendel about it, as he talked to him later about lots of things. The moisture...It was a thing that happened to the Superintendent himself occasionally and happened to the lads too, even the hardest; it crept up on them and the Superintendent watched for it like a hawk...You just happened to put your hand to your face and find it damp and you wondered what the hell Christ bothered to die for, if He ever died at all.
    • chapter 3
  • But Lacon was talking, not listening: "How's Ann?" he asked vaguely, at the window, stretching his forearms on the sill. "With you and so forth, I trust? Not roaming, is she? God, I hate autumn."
    "Fine, thank you. How's—" He struggled without success to remember the name of Lacon's wife.
    "Abandoned me, dammit. Ran off with her pesky riding instructor, blast her. Left me with the children. The girls are farmed out to boarding-schools, thank God." Leaning over his hands, Lacon was staring up at the lightening sky. "Is that Orion up there, stuck like a golf ball between the chimney pots?" he asked.
    • chapter 4
It was an hour before dawn on Hampstead Heath, a dripping, misty, no-man's hour, neither warm nor cold, with a heaven tinted orange by the London glow.
  • "Oliver, I wonder if you'd mind finally telling me what I'm doing here," Smiley heard himself suggesting for the third time, hardly above a murmur.
    Even then, Lacon dithered, pondered, hunted with his eyes, delayed. In Lacon's world, direct questions were the height of bad taste, but direct answers were worse.
    • chapter 4
  • Returning, Smiley approached the pavilion through the trees...earnest moral statements enlivened the flaking green paint. "Punk is destructive. Society does not need it." The assertion caused him a moment's indecision. "Oh, but society does," he wanted to reply; "society is an association of minorities."
    • chapter 8, Le Carre's first and last meditation on punk rock.
  • The drawing-pin was where Mostyn said it was, at head height exactly, in the best Sarratt tradition of regularity, its Circus-issue brass head as new and as unmarked as the boy who had put it there.
    Proceed to the rendezvous, it said, no danger sighted.
    Moscow Rules, thought Smiley yet again. Moscow, where it could take a fieldman three days to post a letter to a safe address. Moscow, where all minorities are punk.
    • chapter 8
  • The room had the atmosphere of a sleazy boudoir, with a chaise lounge and a pink hand-basin in one corner.
    "So how's trade, Toby?" Smiley asked.
    Toby Esterhase had a special smile for that question and a special way of tilting his little palm.
    • chapter 13
"Wish I had an enemy..." Enderby remarked, "Been looking for one for donkey's years. Haven't I, Sam?"
"Night and day, Chief."
  • "It wasn't suicide, Toby," Smiley said, still without a glance at him. "It definitely wasn't suicide. I saw the body, believe me. It wasn't a jealous husband either - not unless he was equipped with a Moscow Centre murder weapon."
    • chapter 13
  • "Balls, the lot of it. It's death, that's what I'm suffering from. The systematic encroachment of the big D. Is that booze you're toting in that bag?"
    "Yes. Yes, it is," said Smiley.
    "Goody. Let's have lots. How's the demon Ann?"
    On the draining-board, amid a permanent pile of washing-up, he found two glasses, and half filled them.
    "Flourishing, I gather," he replied.
    • chapter 14
  • "Because Karla already had his man in Paris, darling," she explained patiently. "As you are very well aware. That old stickler Pudin, the assistant military attaché. You remember how Karla always loved a soldier. Still does, for all I know."
    • chapter 14
  • The plane's descent—and the promise of the renewed chase restored him. There are two Karlas, he reasoned, remembering again the stoic face...There is Karla the professional, so self-possessed that he could allow, if need be, ten years for an operation to bear fruit: in Bill Haydon's case, twenty; Karla the old spy, the pragmatist, ready to trade a dozen losses for one great win.
    And there is this other Karla, Karla of the human heart after all, of the one great love, the Karla flawed by humanity. I should not be deterred if, in order to defend his weakness, he resorts to the methods of his trade.
    • chapter 17
  • "So what's your name, George? Sherlock Holmes dogging his poor old Moriarty? Captain Ahab chasing his big white whale? Who are you?"
    Smiley did not reply.
    "Wish I had an enemy, I must say," Enderby remarked, turning a few pages. "Been looking for one for donkey's years. Haven't I, Sam?"
    "Night and day, Chief," Sam Collins agreed heartily, and sent his master a confiding grin.
    • chapter 19. Sir Saul Enderby is the chief of the Circus; Sam Collins is the Circus' head of Operations.
"Karla...a woman's name, said to belong to the first network he controlled."
"It was during the Spanish Civil War," said Smiley. "The great playground."
  • Enderby, reading aloud the debriefing transcript of Oleg Kirov:
    "'I made the acquaintance of the head of the independent Thirteenth Intelligence Directorate, subordinated to the Party's Central Committee, who is known throughout Moscow Centre only by his workname, Karla. This is a woman's name and is said to belong to the first network he controlled.' That right, George?"
    "It was during the Spanish Civil War," said Smiley. "The great playground."
    • chapter 19
  • "Meanwhile, you have my totally deniable blessing," said Enderby as they started back towards the house.
    "Thank you," said Smiley again.
    "Sorry you've become an instrument of the imperial hypocrisy, but there's rather a lot of it about."
    "Not at all," said Smiley.
    • chapter 19
  • The cab came, and to Smiley's embarrassment Oliver Lacon insisted on shaking hands. "George. Bless you. You've been a brick. We're birds of a feather, George. Both patriots, givers, not takers. Trained to our services. Our country. We must pay the price. If Ann had been your agent instead of your wife, you'd probably have run her pretty well."
    • chapter 20
  • To his landlady, Mrs. Gray, Smiley was, quite simply, bereaved. She knew nothing of him as a man, except that his name was Lorimer and he was a retired librarian by trade. But she told her other gentlemen she could feel he had had a loss, which was why he left his bacon, why he went out a lot but always alone, and why he slept with his light on. He reminded her of her father, she said, "after Mother went."
    • chapter 20
Toby had a lifelong faith in mail vans; stole them wherever he went, saying nobody noticed or remembered them.
  • Toby had a lifelong faith in mail vans; stole them wherever he went, saying nobody noticed or remembered them.
    • chapter 23
  • "The Grigorievs left the house in Elfenau five minutes ago," he said quietly. "Grigorieva's driving. Most likely they die before they get here."
    • chapter 23
  • It's like putting all your money on black, thought Guillam, staring out of the window of the café: everything you've got in the world, your wife, your unborn child. Then waiting, hour by hour, for the croupier to spin the wheel.
    He had known Berlin when it was the world capital of the Cold War, when every crossing point from East to West had the tenseness of a major surgical operation.
    • chapter 27
  • On Karla has descended the curse of Smiley's compassion; on Smiley the curse of Karla's fanaticism. I have destroyed him with the weapons I abhorred, and they are his. We have crossed each other's frontiers, we are the no-men of this no-man's-land.
    • chapter 27

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