From John Le Carre's Smiley's People:

“How are you?” she asked.
“Very well, thank you. How are you? What can I do for you?”
“I meant it,” Ann insisted. “How are you? I want to know.”
“And I told you I was well.”
“I rang you this morning. Why didn’t you answer?”
“I was out.”
Long silence while she appeared to consider this feeble excuse. The telephone had never been a bother to her. It gave her no sense of urgency.
“Out working?” she asked.

Does that mean Ann never felt bothered by unanswered phone calls and she didn't care if there's no immediate response to her phone call?

  • 4
    Since the comment follows the mention of a 'long silence', I imagine that it means that Ann didn't feel the need to keep phone calls short to avoid running up a large bill. Commented May 22 at 8:18
  • 2
    Your interpretation would be appropriate if the thought were coming from someone who was accused of failing to answer a call when they could (and it was my initial intrepretation). But it doesn't fit into this context.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 22 at 15:05

1 Answer 1


Smiley is talking to his wife, Ann, on the phone. The conversation is going awkwardly, and at one point there is a long silence while Ann "considers [his] feeble excuse". Most people find silence on telephone calls to be uncomfortable. This is not only the question of the cost - that you have paid to make this connection, but it is not being used while the parties are not speaking - but also a psychological effect, probably because you are unable to see the person you are talking to. You have no way of gauging how they are responding if they are silent.

This feeling of discomfort generally leads people to try and fill the silence. Ann, however, is not bothered by this, and the silence does not give her any feeling of "urgency" to keep on talking.

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