Searching for Smiley

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George Smiley no longer lived in No. 9.
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SGMT | London | Bywater Street | George Smiley

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I knew it as soon as I saw the new door. Red. A come-hither hue so incongruent to, well, everything George is known to us to be. His abhorrence for attention. His diffident nature. Perhaps, if the goal was to hide in plain sight, a shouty red door would be the perfect blind for a tubby, clumsy, bespectacled man who would ordinarily merit no more than a passing glance.

But…a red door would just be too much, I think. It would remind him of Ann. (It reminded me of Ann.) And some doors you just have to stop trying to open for your own fragile peace of mind.

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George Smiley wasn’t at Cambridge Circus either. There was no reason he would be, of course, but I went anyway. I wanted to see it for myself. Perhaps I had the notion I would understand George more if I walked where he walked — stood where he stood, as an approximation for standing in his shoes. Though if he were to stand in front of me himself, in the flesh, I doubt I would have the nerve to ask my questions.

How are you, George?

Does it get better after a while?

Did you ever understand why?

No — I don’t think I’d ask, if only to spare George from having to decline to answer. The one time he opened himself up, he got burned. Some lessons you unlearn at your own peril.

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SGMT | London | Vauxhall | SIS | MI6 | George Smiley

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And Vauxhall? Would he be there? If he was, would I want to know? I would want to think that someone who’s been hurt so much would find peace and — dare I say it — happiness in his later years. Not giving again: giving of himself, giving always and forever, just giving and giving and knowing that in the end….

For once, I just want the nice guy to not finish last.

Or is that too selfish of me? Is that cowardice masquerading as cynicism? What would George tell me, if I actually do come upon him on this pilgrimage?

I try not to guess. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

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I find George Smiley at last in Hampstead Heath. He is probably in Cornwall but I imagine I find him anyway, at the site of many of his previous rendezvous. I see an old man sitting quietly on a log and I think: yes, that could be George Smiley. Then I see him walking back home with his dog and I think: please, God, let that be George Smiley.

I want it to be George. I want that image of him: happy and healthy and whole and well and taking walks with someone who will love him and will be loyal to him till the very end. And if it’s just a dog, well, I’ll take it. But hopefully there will be more than that.

If it can happen to George Smiley, it can happen to anyone.

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John le Carre | George Smiley | A Legacy of Spies

I’ve no doubt I’m about to be disillusioned but I wanted to get this piece out there before I’m forced to give up on my George-Smiley-happy-ever-after dreams. John le CarrĂ©’s newest novel, A Legacy of Spies, is out today — and I am told George Smiley makes a cameo. I did go on a Smiley pilgrimage of sorts when I was in London in 2015 but I’ve only just managed to write this now. It was not very easy to write. And, so help me God, I am still holding out a tiny, tiny hope for a happy ending for all the George Smileys of the world.



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