John le Carré: The Biography
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John le Carré is still at the top more than half a century after The Spy Who Came in from the Cold became a worldwide bestseller. Written with exclusive access to le Carré, his personal archives, and many of the people closest to him, Adam Sisman's definitive biography is a highly readable, fascinating portrait of the life, times and espionage career that inspired a literary master.
Always secretive about his background and Secret Service career (blocking one biography from publication in the 1990s, then choosing a biographer who abandoned the project), John le Carré (David Cornwell) has finally given his blessing to Adam Sisman, who has delivered a biography that reads like a novel. From his bleak childhood--the departure of his mother when he was five was followed by "sixteen hugless years" in the dubious care of his father, a serial-seducer and con-man--through recruitment by both MI5 and MI6, his years as an agent for British Intelligence during the Cold War, to his emergence as the master of the espionage novel, le Carré has repeatedly quarried his life for his fiction. His acute psychological renderings of undercover operations and the moral ambiguities of the Cold War and our present-day politics lend his novels a level of credibility that is unmistakable. Sisman's great biography uncovers for us the remarkable story of an enigmatic writer whose commercial success has sometimes overshadowed appreciation for his extraordinary abilities.
opposition. The new National Government sought a mandate from the people by calling a general election. This parliamentary realignment permeated down to a local level. In the run-up to the election Frank Cornwell wrote an open letter to Alec Glassey, published in the Poole and East Dorset Herald. Though a Conservative, he declared his ‘whole-hearted support’ for Glassey, as one of those men ‘who have proved themselves to have put the nation before party politics’. Whether Glassey was grateful for
grounds of the Eastern Front. Ernst Achenbach, a member of the Bundestag and a senior figure in the Free Democratic Party, had helped to organise the deportation of French Jews from Paris. And so on. ‘Bonn in the early 1960s was a spooky place,’ David would write in retrospect. ‘Sometimes the very streets of the city seemed like a perilously thin surface laid hastily upon the recent dreadful past, like one of those nicely mown grass mounds at Belsen concentration camp, covering the mute agony of
terrible events taking place on the other side of the world. Over lunch at the Garrick, Westerby’s literary agent is preoccupied with cricket, and advises his client against writing a novel set in South-east Asia. ‘Absolute death, to be frank, the East these days. Only have to whisper Vietnam to a publisher and you won’t see the fellow for dust.’ If David deplored the lack of interest his own countrymen showed in the tragedy unfolding in Indochina, he was still more critical of American
would be into his seventies. * There is some doubt about this. David remembers one of those present saying to Guinness, ‘Were you to do this …’ and receiving the reply, ‘I thought that was understood.’ Elsewhere it has been suggested that only subsequently was Guinness persuaded by John Irvin to take the part. † Long-established spectacle makers, since bought by Boots. Curry & Paxton also supplied the spectacles worn by Michael Caine for his role as Harry Palmer in the films of Len Deighton’s
have time to concentrate on her writing. When David wrote to tell Olive of his plan to leave Oxford and marry Ann, she cautioned him against doing so, arguing that his fiancée was a girl who had lived ‘gaily and well’, no wife for a humble schoolmaster without a degree. Ann was amused to be so misunderstood, but David was furious, and resolved to have no further contact with his mother. She would not be invited to the wedding, and he would not see her again for many years. Yet David himself was