Master Spy Writer John le Carré Dies at 89

Death of LONDON-JOHN Le Carré, a spy novice whose elegant and intricate stories defined the spy thriller of the Cold War and made previously ignored genre critics famous. He was 89 years old.

Le Carré’s literary agency, Curtis Brown, reported on Sunday that he died on Saturday in Cornwall, South West England, after a brief illness. Death has nothing to do with Covid-19.

In classical works such as Espion qui vient du froid, Clochette, a spy for soldiers and the venerable pupil Le Carré, brevity is combined with poetry, prose with the complexity expected in literary fiction. His books fight betrayal, moral compromises and the psychological cost of secret life. Together with George Smiley, a master of silent and alert espionage, he created one of the emblematic figures of 20th century fiction. For centuries – an honest man at the center of the web of deceit.

For Le Carret, the world of espionage was a metaphor for the human condition.

Born David Cornwall, Mr Le Carre worked for the British Secret Service before turning his experience into fiction.

I’m not part of the literary bureaucracy, if you want to categorize everyone. Romantic, exciting, serious, Mr Le Carré told the Associated Press in 2008. I’m just taking over what I want to write and the characters. I don’t call it a thriller or an entertainment.

His other works are Smiley’s People, the Russian House and the Legacy of Spies in 2017. Many novels have been adapted for film and television.

Mr Le Carré was involved in espionage with a superficially ordinary but covertly violent upbringing.

Mr Le Carret is at home with two sons in the sixties.


Ralph Crane/LIFE Photo Collection/Image Acquisition

David John Moore Cornwall was born on the 19th. Born in October 1931 in Poole, South England. It turned out that he had a standard upper secondary education: a private school in Sherbourne, a year’s study of German at the University of Bern, compulsory military service in Austria, where he interviewed defectors from the Eastern Bloc, and a degree in modern languages from Oxford University.

It was an illusion: His father, Ronnie Cornwall, was a crook who was aided and abetted by gangsters and was in prison for insurance fraud. His mother left the family when David was 5 years old; he did not see her again until he was 21.

It was a childhood full of uncertainty and extremes: One minute they were limousines and champagne, the next minute the family was evicted from their last apartment. This gave him self-confidence, an acute awareness of the gap between surface and reality and an intimate knowledge of the mystery, which will serve him in his future profession.

It was indeed a very early experience of secret survival, Le Carret said in 1996. The whole world was enemy territory.

After university, interrupted by his father’s bankruptcy, he taught at the prestigious boarding school Eton before joining the foreign service.

Officially he was a diplomat, but in reality he was a modest member of the domestic intelligence service of MI5 – he started as a student at Oxford and then as his MI6 counterpart abroad, serving in Germany, then in the frontline of the Cold War, under the guise of a second secretary at the British Embassy.

The first three novels were written while he was a spy, and his employers demanded that he publish them under a pseudonym. He stayed in Le Carre throughout his career. He said he chose the name Square in French because he liked its vaguely mysterious European sound.

Mr Le Carret in a study of his house in Cornwall in the 1990s.


Marco Pirocconi/Mondadori Portfolio/Image Capture

In 1961 the Death Appeal was published and in 1962 the Murder of Quality. Then, in 1963, the spy was born from the cold story of an agent who was forced to perform a last risky operation in divided Berlin. She addressed one of the author’s recurring themes: the blurring of moral lines, which is an integral part of espionage, and the difficulty of distinguishing between good and bad. Mr Le Carré said it was written at one of the darkest moments of the Cold War, shortly after the construction of the Berlin Wall, at a time when he and his colleagues feared the outbreak of the nuclear war.

So, in the heat of the moment, I wrote a book about the plague in your two houses, as Mr Le Carré said in 2000.

It was immediately recognized as a classic and allowed him to leave the secret service to become a regular writer.

His depictions of club life, the dirty and ethically depraved world of the circus – the codename for MI6’s books – were the counterpart to the polished action film Ian Fleming – the James Bond hero, and earned Mr Le Carré the critical respect that Mr Fleming avoided.

Smiley appears in the first two novels by Mr Le Carré and in the Spy Lieutenant-Soldier trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy and The People of Smiley.

Mr Le Carré said the character was based on John Bingham – an MI5 agent who wrote spy thrillers and promoted Mr Le Carré’s literary career – and the church historian Vivian Green, chaplain to his school and later Oxford College, who actually became my confessor and godfather. More than 20 novels deal with the despicable reality of the art of espionage, but Le Carré has always claimed that there is a kind of nobility in this profession. He said that spies in their time almost saw themselves as people who had the reputation of being priests because they were telling the truth.

He said… We didn’t shape it or model it. We were there and we thought we could tell the authorities the truth.

The Britishactor Gary Oldman (left), the Swedish director Thomas Alfredson (centre) and Mr Le Carret at the British premiere of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011.


San Tang / Associated Press

The Perfect Spy, his most autobiographical book, is about the creation of a spy like Magnus Pumas, a boy whose criminal and restless upbringing is very similar to that of his own lord Le Carret. His work did not stop, even after the end of the Cold War and the changing front line of the spy wars. In 1990, Mr Le Carré said that the fall of the Berlin Wall had brought relief. It was absolutely great for me. I’m tired of writing about the Cold War. The cheapest joke was to say: Poor old Le Carré had no more material, so they took away his wall. ” He went on to say: All you have to do is bring one spy story and go to the scene of the action.

He was everywhere. The Schneider Panama was installed in Central America. The permanent gardener, who was filmed together with Ralph Feinne and Rachel Weisch, talked about the machinery of the pharmaceutical industry in Africa.

The book Most Wanted, published in 2008, was devoted to extraordinary rendition and the war against terrorism. Our type of traitor, released in 2010, was captured by Russian crime syndicates and the sinister machinations of the financial sector.

Mr Le Carré would have refrained from honoring Queen Elizabeth II, although in 2011 he received Goethe’s German medal and said that he did not want his books to be eligible for the literary prizes.

Later he was very critical of Tony Blair’s government and its decision to start a war in Iraq, partly based on excessive intelligence, and criticised what he saw as the betrayal of a generation after the Second World War by successive British governments.

I remember the changes I’ve been promised since I was 14. When Clement Attley became prime minister and [Winston] Churchill was taken out of the game after the war, I was told it would mean the end of the [private] school system and the end of the monarchy, he said in 2008.

How can we close the poverty gap that exists in this country? It’s just unbelievable, he said.

In 1954, mr. Le Carré with Alison Sharpe, with whom he had three sons, before they divorced in 1971. In 1972 he married Valérie Eustace, with whom he has a son, the writer Nick Harkaway.

Although he has a house in London, Mr Le Carré spends most of his time near Lands End, the most southwestern tip of England, in a house on a cliff overlooking the sea. He was, he said, a humanist, but not an optimist.

We depend on mankind. If we could only see it in our institutional forms, we would have hope, he said. I think mankind will always be there. I think he’ll always be beaten.

Mr Le Carret in 2008 at his home in London.


Kirsty Wigglesworth/Presse Associée

Copyright until 2020, Associated Press.

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