Le Carré was not part of the literary bureaucracy…


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

From Jacobin:

Born David John Moore Cornwell in 1931 to a con man father who ended up in jail — “when he cheated others, he cheated himself” — and an absentee mother, the future John le Carré became a diligent student of nineteenth-century German literature. He was recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service while at Oxford and ended up laboring in obscure counterespionage endeavors during the years of the Cold War. His superficial chroniclers — in the absence of any good biography on hand aside from his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel — speak vaguely about interrogations of German and Soviet deserters, his time in Vienna, and the omnipresence of Berlin, that gray city fragmented by interminable plots. The work, confessed le Carré, was conducted in an “inexact manner.”

Being a spy was not enough. He wrote a novel — in longhand, as he always did — which he was forced to publish under a pseudonym because of the official secrets law, obliging him to disguise his anecdotes. His signatures on a nondisclosure agreement forced him to bury his past in anonymity, a circumstance which, in 1961, gave birth to “John le Carré” and Call for the Dead. The action in his first novel played out between British spy George Smiley and his Soviet counterpart, Dieter Frey, two former comrades in arms in the war against Nazism who now found themselves on opposite sides of the Cold War. The book produced the Smiley character — his last name clashing with a profoundly somber personality — who would become inseparable from his creator over the years.

After his literary success, le Carré took to shutting himself up once a year in Cornwall to write another novel. “I am not part of the literary bureaucracy,” he observed. The British secret services hate him, Julio Cortázar remarked that his novels are like bricks, CIA-financed magazines loathed his contempt for the silly gringo empire, and Soviet literary magazines were no more enthusiastic.

“John le Carré’s Novels Weren’t Just Spy Thrillers — They Were High Literature”, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Jacobin

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