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Yaroslav Davydov
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Download The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré - The Epic Spy Thriller Set in Asia

The Honourable Schoolboy: A Thrilling Spy Novel by John le Carré

If you are looking for a gripping and realistic spy novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat, you should check out The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carré. This is the second book in the famous Karla trilogy, which follows the rivalry between British intelligence officer George Smiley and his Soviet counterpart, codenamed Karla. In this book, Smiley sends his trusted agent Jerry Westerby, nicknamed the honourable schoolboy, to Hong Kong to uncover a Soviet plot that could endanger the British interests in Asia. Along the way, Westerby gets involved in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Karla's agents, as well as a passionate affair with a Chinese woman. This is a complex and thrilling story that explores the moral ambiguity of espionage, the clash of cultures and ideologies, and the personal costs of loyalty and betrayal.

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In this section, we will introduce the basic information about The Honourable Schoolboy, such as what it is about, who are the main characters, and why it is called that way.

What is the honourable schoolboy about?

The Honourable Schoolboy is a spy novel by John le Carré, published in 1977. It is the second book in the Karla trilogy, which also includes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974) and Smiley's People (1979). The trilogy follows the Cold War rivalry between George Smiley, a senior British intelligence officer, and his Soviet nemesis, codenamed Karla. In The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley sends one of his agents, Jerry Westerby, to Hong Kong to investigate a mysterious Soviet bank account that was exposed by a defector in the previous book. Westerby's mission leads him to discover a web of intrigue and corruption that involves drug trafficking, arms smuggling, political assassinations, and a secret Soviet operation that could threaten the stability of Southeast Asia. Westerby also falls in love with a beautiful Chinese woman named Lizzie Worthington, who has ties to both sides of the conflict. As Westerby pursues his quarry across Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, he faces danger from Karla's agents, as well as from his own colleagues who have different agendas.

Who are the main characters?

The main characters of The Honourable Schoolboy are:

  • Jerry Westerby: The protagonist of the novel. He is a former journalist and a part-time spy for the British intelligence service known as the Circus. He is nicknamed "the honourable schoolboy" because of his upper-class background and his naive enthusiasm for his work. He is loyal to Smiley and eager to prove himself as an agent. He is also a romantic and a womanizer, who falls in love with Lizzie Worthington, a Chinese woman who works for a British businessman in Hong Kong.

  • George Smiley: The de facto head of the Circus, after he exposed and ousted a Soviet mole in the previous book. He is a brilliant and meticulous spymaster, who has a personal vendetta against Karla, his Soviet counterpart. He is also a lonely and disillusioned man, who has been betrayed by his wife and his colleagues. He sees Westerby as his protégé and his last hope to score a victory over Karla.

  • Karla: The mysterious and ruthless head of the Soviet intelligence service known as Moscow Centre. He is Smiley's arch-enemy and the mastermind behind the Soviet plot in Asia. He is never seen or heard in the novel, but his presence is felt throughout. He is a formidable adversary, who anticipates and counters Smiley's moves, and who uses his agents as pawns in his chess game.

  • Lizzie Worthington: A Chinese woman who works as a secretary for Drake Ko, a wealthy and influential British businessman in Hong Kong. She is also Westerby's lover and the key to his investigation. She is a complex and mysterious character, who has a tragic past and a hidden agenda. She is torn between her love for Westerby and her loyalty to her family and her country.

  • Drake Ko: A British businessman of Chinese descent, who owns a shipping company and a newspaper in Hong Kong. He is also a secret agent for the Circus, who provides information and resources to Westerby. He is a powerful and charismatic figure, who has connections to both the British and the Chinese authorities. He is also Lizzie's employer and protector, who has a paternal affection for her.

  • Craw: A veteran spy and Westerby's mentor. He is the head of the Circus station in Hong Kong, where he operates under the cover of a journalist. He is a cynical and sarcastic man, who has seen too much of the dirty side of espionage. He helps Westerby with his mission, but he also warns him of the dangers and the pitfalls of his profession.

Why is it called the honourable schoolboy?

The title of the novel refers to Jerry Westerby's nickname, which was given to him by his colleagues at the Circus. The nickname reflects his upper-class background, as he was educated at Eton, a prestigious boarding school in England. It also reflects his naive enthusiasm for his work as a spy, as he sees it as an adventure and a noble cause. The nickname is ironic, as it contrasts with the harsh reality of espionage, which involves deception, violence, betrayal, and sacrifice. The nickname also implies that Westerby is not a professional spy, but an amateur who is out of his depth in the complex and dangerous world of international politics.

The Plot

In this section, we will summarize the main events of The Honourable Schoolboy, which are divided into four parts: the aftermath of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the mission in Hong Kong, the chase across Southeast Asia, and the showdown in Cambodia.

The aftermath of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The novel begins in 1974, shortly after the events of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, in which George Smiley exposed and ousted Bill Haydon, a senior Circus officer who was secretly working for Karla as a mole. Smiley has been appointed as the interim chief of the Circus by Oliver Lacon, the civil servant in charge of intelligence affairs. Smiley's task is to rebuild the Circus from scratch, as most of its operations have been compromised by Haydon's betrayal. Smiley also wants to resume his personal war against Karla, whom he blames for ruining his career and his marriage.

Smiley's first clue comes from Connie Sachs, an old friend and former Circus analyst who specializes in Soviet affairs. She tells him that she has found evidence of a Soviet bank account in Hong Kong that was used by Haydon to receive payments from Karla. The account belongs to Nelson Ko, Drake Ko's brother and partner, who died in a plane crash in Laos in 1973. Smiley suspects that Nelson Ko was another Soviet agent who was involved in Karla's plot in Asia.

The mission in Hong Kong

Westerby arrives in Hong Kong, where he meets Craw, the head of the Circus station. Craw introduces him to Drake Ko, who agrees to help Westerby with his investigation. Drake Ko also introduces Westerby to Lizzie Worthington, his secretary and protégée, who catches Westerby's eye. Westerby and Lizzie begin a romantic relationship, despite Craw's warning that she might be dangerous.

Westerby follows the trail of Nelson Ko's bank account, which leads him to a Chinese businessman named Tiny Ricardo, who runs a drug smuggling operation in Hong Kong. Ricardo tells Westerby that Nelson Ko was his partner and that he used the bank account to launder money for Karla. Ricardo also reveals that Nelson Ko had a son named Charlie Marshall, who was born from a liaison with a Vietnamese woman. Ricardo says that Charlie Marshall is the key to Karla's plan in Asia, but he does not know where he is.

Westerby reports his findings to Smiley, who is intrigued by the mention of Charlie Marshall. Smiley recalls that Charlie Marshall was the name of a British journalist who was killed in Phnom Penh in 1973, along with Nelson Ko and several other people. Smiley suspects that Charlie Marshall was not really a journalist, but a Soviet agent who faked his death and assumed a new identity. Smiley orders Westerby to find Charlie Marshall and bring him back to London.

The chase across Southeast Asia

Westerby begins his search for Charlie Marshall, which takes him across Southeast Asia. He travels to Vietnam, where he meets a French journalist named Luke, who tells him that Charlie Marshall was involved in a coup attempt against the South Vietnamese president in 1973. Luke says that Charlie Marshall escaped to Laos with the help of a CIA agent named Frost.

Westerby follows Frost's trail to Laos, where he encounters a CIA station chief named Ricardo. Ricardo confirms that Frost helped Charlie Marshall escape, but he does not know where he went. Ricardo also warns Westerby that Karla's agents are after him and that he should leave Laos as soon as possible.

Westerby ignores Ricardo's advice and continues his pursuit of Charlie Marshall. He tracks him down to a remote village in Laos, where he finds him living as a Buddhist monk. Westerby confronts Charlie Marshall and tries to persuade him to come with him to London. Charlie Marshall admits that he is Nelson Ko's son and that he worked for Karla as a Soviet agent. He says that he was part of Karla's plan to destabilize Southeast Asia by supporting communist movements and fomenting civil wars. He also says that he betrayed Karla and faked his death because he fell in love with a Cambodian woman named Phuong, who was killed by Karla's men.

Charlie Marshall refuses to go with Westerby and tells him to leave him alone. He says that he has renounced his past and found peace in Buddhism. He also reveals that Lizzie Worthington is his half-sister and that she works for Karla as well. He warns Westerby that Lizzie is using him and that she will betray him.

The showdown in Cambodia

Westerby is shocked by Charlie Marshall's revelation and decides to return to Hong Kong to confront Lizzie. However, before he can leave Laos, he is captured by Karla's agents, who torture him and try to extract information from him. Westerby manages to escape with the help of Luke, who rescues him and takes him to Thailand.

In Thailand, Westerby contacts Smiley and tells him what he has learned from Charlie Marshall. Smiley is stunned by the news and realizes that Karla has been one step ahead of him all along. Smiley deduces that Karla's ultimate goal is to overthrow the Cambodian government and install a communist regime loyal to Moscow. Smiley also realizes that Lizzie is Karla's mole inside Drake Ko's organization and that she has been feeding information to Karla about Westerby's movements.

Smiley orders Westerby to go back to Hong Kong and expose Lizzie as a traitor. However, Westerby refuses to obey Smiley and decides to go to Cambodia instead. Westerby still loves Lizzie and wants to save her from Karla's clutches. He also wants to stop Karla's plan and prevent a bloodbath in Cambodia.

Westerby arrives in Phnom Penh, where he finds Lizzie waiting for him. Lizzie confesses that she is Karla's agent and that she has been manipulating him. She says that she is sorry for hurting him, but she has no choice. She says that she is loyal to Karla and to her country, which she believes will be better off under a communist rule. She also says that she loves him and asks him to join her and Karla.

Westerby rejects Lizzie's offer and tries to persuade her to defect with him. He says that he loves her and that he can protect her from Karla. He also says that Karla's plan is doomed to fail and that he will only bring misery and death to Cambodia. He begs her to trust him and to come with him.

Lizzie hesitates, but ultimately decides to stay with Karla. She says that she cannot betray Karla, who has been like a father to her. She also says that she cannot betray her brother, Charlie Marshall, who sacrificed his life for Karla's cause. She tells Westerby that it is too late for them and that they are on opposite sides of history.

Lizzie shoots Westerby in the chest and leaves him to die. She then joins Karla, who is waiting for her in a helicopter. Karla congratulates Lizzie on her performance and tells her that they have won. He says that the Cambodian coup is underway and that their allies are taking over the capital. He also says that he has eliminated Smiley's network in Asia and that he has dealt a severe blow to the Circus. He tells Lizzie that she has done well and that he is proud of her.

Westerby dies alone on the street, clutching a photo of Lizzie in his hand.

The Themes

In this section, we will discuss the main themes of The Honourable Schoolboy, such as the moral ambiguity of espionage, the clash of cultures and ideologies, and the personal costs of loyalty and betrayal.

The moral ambiguity of espionage

One of the main themes of The Honourable Schoolboy is the moral ambiguity of espionage, which questions the ethics and the effectiveness of spying as a means of achieving political goals. The novel portrays espionage as a dirty and dangerous business, which involves lying, cheating, stealing, killing, and betraying. The novel also shows that espionage often has unintended and harmful consequences, such as creating more enemies, destabilizing regions, and endangering innocent lives.

The novel challenges the notion of good versus evil in the Cold War context, by showing that both sides are equally ruthless and manipulative in pursuing their interests. The novel also suggests that there is no clear distinction between friend and foe in the spy world, as allies can turn into enemies and vice versa. The novel illustrates this theme through the characters of Smiley and Karla, who are both brilliant spymasters, but also morally compromised individuals, who use their agents as disposable tools in their personal war. The novel also illustrates this theme through the characters of Westerby and Lizzie, who are both idealistic and passionate individuals, but also naive and misguided pawns in a larger game.

The clash of cultures and ideologies

Another theme of The Honourable Schoolboy is the clash of cultures and ideologies, which explores the differences and conflicts between the Western and the Eastern worldviews in the context of the Cold War. The novel depicts Southeast Asia as a complex and diverse region, which is rich in history, culture, religion, and politics, but also plagued by poverty, violence, corruption, and instability. The novel shows how the region becomes a battleground for the superpowers, who try to impose their values and interests on the local people.

and conflict. The novel illustrates this theme through the characters of Westerby and Lizzie, who represent the Western and the Eastern perspectives, respectively. Westerby is a typical British gentleman, who values freedom, justice, and romance. Lizzie is a typical Chinese woman, who values duty, loyalty, and family. Westerby and Lizzie fall in love, but they also clash over their beliefs and allegiances. Their relationship is doomed by their cultural and ideological differences, as well as by the external forces that manipulate them.

The personal costs of loyalty and betrayal

A third theme of The Honourable Schoolboy is the personal costs of loyalty and betrayal, which examines the emotional and psychological impact of espionage on the individuals involved. The novel shows how espionage requires loyalty and betrayal, both of which have a high price to pay. The novel shows how loyalty can be a source of strength and motivation, but also a source of vulnerability and sacrifice. The novel also shows how betrayal can be a source of advantage and survival, but also a source of guilt and regret.

The novel explores the effects of loyalty and betrayal on the characters' identities, relationships, and morals. The novel shows how the characters struggle to maintain their sense of self and their sense of right and wrong in a world where nothing is certain and everything is relative. The novel shows how the characters cope with their loneliness and their disillusionment in different ways, such as by seeking love, faith, or revenge. The novel shows how the characters face the consequences of their actions and their choices, both for themselves and for others.

The novel illustrates this theme through the characters of Smiley and Karla, who are both loyal to their causes and their countries, but also betray their agents and their families. Smiley is loyal to the Circus and to Britain, but he also betrays his wife and his friends. Karla is loyal to Moscow Centre and to China, but he also betrays his agents and his daughter. Smiley and Karla are both haunted by their betrayals, which drive them to seek redemption or revenge.

The novel also illustrates this theme through the characters of Westerby and Lizzie, who are both betrayed by their lovers and their colleagues. Westerby is betrayed by Lizzie, who works for Karla and who shoots him. Lizzie is betrayed by Karla, who kills her brother and her lover. Westerby and Lizzie are both devastated by their betrayals, which destroy their hopes and their dreams.

The Reception and Legacy

In this section, we will discuss the reception and legacy of The Honourable Schoolboy, such as how it was received by critics and readers, how it fits into the Karla trilogy and le Carré's oeuvre, and how it has influenced other spy fiction and media.

How was the book received by critics and readers?

The Honourable Schoolboy was generally well received by critics and readers when it was published in 1977. It was praised for its intricate plot, its vivid setting, its realistic characters, its thematic depth, its literary style, and its suspenseful action. It was also acclaimed for its portrayal of Southeast Asia during the turbulent era of the Vietnam War and its aftermath. It was nominated for several awards, including the Booker Prize, the National Book Award, and the Gold Dagger Award.

too descriptive, or too digressive. Some felt that it lacked the focus and the intensity of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the first book in the Karla trilogy. Some felt that it was too biased or too critical of the American involvement in Southeast Asia. Some felt that it was too dated or too irrelevant to the contemporary political situation.

Despite these criticisms, The Honourable Schoolboy remains a popular and respected work of spy fiction, which has been reprinted and translated many times. It has also been adapted into other media, such as a radio drama, a comic book, and a video game.

How does it fit into the Karla trilogy and le Carré's oeuvre?

The Honourable Schoolboy is the second book in the Karla trilogy, which is considered to be le Carré's masterpiece and one of the best examples of spy fiction. The Karla trilogy follows the Cold War rivalry between George Smiley and Karla, two spymasters who represent the British and the Soviet intelligence services, respectively. The trilogy consists of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), and Smiley's People (1979). The trilogy is a complex and realistic depiction of espionage, which explores its moral, psychological, and political implications.

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