February 07, 2012

The curse of Karla

Just what is it with this book, anyway?

John le Carré's classic Cold War novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, about a Soviet mole working within British intelligence, has been on the top of my list of three "cursed books" for 10 years. This is a list of books that I have tried to finish multiple times but never succeeded. (The other two are Stephen King's The Dark Tower, volume 1, and Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book—ironically.)

Five times I have borrowed this book from the library—about once every four or five years since 1990. Five times I have returned it unfinished. I seem to always get to the point where George Smiley visits and commiserates with his drunken former secretary, and then the whole project fizzles out.

Unlike the other books on the cursed list, which I have honest trouble getting into, Tinker, Tailor is genuinely enjoyable. I rip my way through the first third, then I'm prevented from finishing by a conspiracy of small circumstances. I'm beginning to think it's an actual curse: the "curse of Karla" (after the codename of the Russian spymaster that recruited the mole). Heh. Not only does he not want Smiley to catch him, he doesn't want me to, either.

To make matters worse, Attempt Number Six is dragging my whole reading program down. I'm now two weeks behind. I'm going to have to make up for lost time with some easy-to-read potboilers. Fortunately, that's why God made Star Trek novels and Agatha Christie.