They’re both stories about white guys sitting down and quietly talking. They also both made a tremendous impact on me: one by reminding me that I must yet reckon with Sorkin, the other by making me aware that le Carré is not just another popular novelist from before my time but an outright craftmaster.
There are other similarities. Everyone is glib, but in Sorkinland people use their flip lines to express their deepest feelings, whereas in le Carré glibness is a rigid fencing match of protocol that may mean nothing or everything. They’re also both stories about a dangerous little man who doesn’t understand women, and about betrayal. But now I’m stretching the parallels out for no particular reason. Le Carré doesn’t sound like Sorkin, he sounds like (he must have been an influence on) my favorite prose stylist, William Gibson.
I didn’t realize until I went back and read the foreword that much of the trade jargon in Tinker Tailor is pure invention, or at least pure extrapolation–a sort of nadsat projected into the past. Now, because language devours itself, some of it has become real jargon. Did you know that the OED can’t find any use of the word “mole” to describe an embedded double agent before le Carré? He doesn’t think he made it up, but then Gibson didn’t really invent “cyberspace” either.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a very good book and you should read it. Then we should go see the movie together.