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Understanding the Chronology
on 24 October 2017
This book is very good read as a standalone; but really quite wonderful if read as a two-header with "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold". It makes for a much fuller, richer reading experience. The comparative brevity of the two books also lend themselves to this approach (I think both books together total less than 500 pages). In this book there are also references to events which took place in "Tinker, Tailor..." and again having read that book it makes this one more rewarding - but absolutely not essential to do so.
You need to be aware of some half-witted newspaper reviews of this book. They don't seem to have read closely and understood the chronology, and so you will read some disparaging comments about George Smiley making an appearance when he is over 100 years old. They have missed the point that the events in "A Legacy..." are not happening in the present day. The chronology is thus: the narrator Peter Guillam is at some point in the 2010s (perhaps even 2017) is reflecting back upon both events in the mid-1990s when he was required by the Service to revisit events of the late 1950s. There are clues to the 1990s setting through the book (e.g. the description of the Mi6 building in Vauxhall makes it seem relatively new; Guillam is asked if he has a mobile phone or an e-mail, which would be odd questions to ask someone nowadays). Then toward the end of the book, Le Carre drops in a line almost as a throw-away which indicates that the narration is reflecting historical events.
It is a lovely touch by Le Carre ; a bit of "circle-within- a-circle" misdirection befitting a novel about spies.
So, for your mental picture assume a Peter Guillam in his mid-eighties; reflecting on a time in the mid-1990s. In the mid-1990s, Guillam is in his early sixties and is recently retired and George Smiley is in his early eighties. Guillam is being required to revisit events of the late 1950s and early 1960s when he was in his late twenties to early thirties.
Not so difficult to get the head around. The critics in the newspaper book reviews should perhaps stick to Dan Brown books.