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A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020

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Perhaps it’s not too late to revive the humane art of letter-writing. If I start now, given the state of Royal Mail, some of them might even arrive in time to be published posthumously.

Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020 A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020

He donated his archive of personal papers, letters and manuscripts (“filling the space of a Cornish barn”) to the Bodleian library in Oxford.The 1979 novel is the third and final instalment of the Karla trilogy, after Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy. Photograph: sjbooks/Alamy

John le Carré by Adam Sisman review – the The Secret Life of John le Carré by Adam Sisman review – the

The book is well-edited, and we do not learn everything about the writer. But, we learn plenty about the man, who wrote with love, and courtesy (even when he was upset or distressed), saying just enough in his letters to know who he was as a person who wished well for the world and its people, and who was not hesitant about citing events and people who he believed were misdirected or evil. In one letter, which I think really offers insight into Cornwell, he writes that he has a bad habit of wanting to isolate himself from the world with his family when he's not working and really wants to act differently in that regard, but in about half of the letters, he is making excuses why he cannot meet or attend conferences or visit friends. Much like George Smiley, he will act decisively when called upon, but for all of it is quite happy left alone with his manuscripts and daydreams.He found rich ambiguities in the world of private banking in Single & Single and of post-9/11 espionage in A Most Wanted Man (2008). The fate of the disaffected Muslim immigrant Issa Karpov, torn to shreds by competing intelligence agencies, British, American and German, did not fit into the emerging western discourses of terrorism. Alan Furst in the New York Times said A Most Wanted Man was Le Carré’s “strongest, most powerful novel” with “near perfect narrative pace”. The diatribes against Tony Blair and the British role in the invasion of Iraq in Absolute Friends (2003) were more enthusiastically received in Britain than in the US. John le Carré and his wife, Jane, at the Berlin film festival, 2001. Photograph: Franziska Krug/Getty Images

A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020 review

After Mitchell’s death in 2011, Cornwell wrote a condolence letter to his family, in which he was still blaming his target for being outraged, asking querulously: “Was he really imagining that a bourgeois society would not spy on a revolutionary movement?” Well, perhaps not. Maybe he just objected to the identity of the person who had been watching him for the Secret Police. For, as has been said in other contexts “it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” No doubt Cornwell was familiar with that passage of Scripture, for his education was strongly Christian and there is quite a lot of evidence that he found religion a persistent problem and an occasional temptation. I sat bolt upright when I first read (I think it was in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) the words “Smiley hated faith.” How interesting, I thought. Why would this brilliant methodical thinker and studier of the human condition at its worst take such a stance? I never found out. The remark wasn’t explained. As a schoolboy, Cornwell had undergone a “complete revulsion” from Christianity soon after a stay with a group of Anglican monks. Later he would tell his former boarding school housemaster that he preferred the “natural” to the “unnatural” and the “free” to the “repressed.” Later still he would tell his Oxford chaplain, an unusual clergyman who famously wore leather trousers when off duty, that “I’ve always wanted to become a Christian and try and live like one.” About the same time, he wrote to his first wife, during another monastic retreat, “I just feel, perhaps for the first time, that I am near to finding a way of life and a real faith.” But he added urgently: “I’m not suddenly getting religion nor will I turn monk.” Later still, he told a psychiatrist that he had been trying during his first marriage “as I have tried off and on throughout my life, to embrace religion.” The attempt ultimately failed. His instructions for his funeral included a stern ban on any “mumbo-jumbo.” But the full passage is not quite so dismissive. It is in a 2001 letter to his sons and his wife and says: “I had an amazing life, against the odds. I turned from a bad man to a much better one. I detest the mumbo-jumbo of organised religion, love the glory of creation and believe in some kind of triumph of that glory.” Published: 31 Dec 2022 ‘I did not let Kim Philby go. He gave me the slip’: what an MI6 spy told me over lunch Ex-spy and eminent British novelist John le Carré, pictured here in July 1993. Photograph: Sean Smith/The GuardianMy best moment was being offered a chance to meet Philby, which I declined. Genrikh Borovik, an old hood who is writing P’s ‘biography’ and has 17 hrs of tape recording with him, told me what a nice guy Kim was, and what a great patriot. I said I fully agreed. He was just like Penkovsky [Oleg Penkovsky was a Russian spy who was executed for treason after passing secrets to the West, most notably in the run up to the Cuban missile crisis], I said: fun, and straight as a dye. Just a pity poor old Oleg wasn’t in London, I said, for me to introduce him to Genrikh. Published: 21 Oct 2022 David Farr: ‘The 60s generation created the most selfish age there has ever been’

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