Thursday, December 30, 2021

John le Carré, 1931-2020

 David John Moore Cornwall, best known as John le Carré, worked for both MI5 and MI6 before the success of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” led him to quite the service and write full timeé . I have followed him since I acquired the George Smiley trilogy from Book of the Month Club a long time ago. His final novel, Silverview, has just been added to my collection. I shall miss him but will likely reread all of them in future.

His style is antithetical to Ian Fleming. No flashy stuff, little action, women as professionals or love objects, not sex symbols. The plots are intellectually gripping and will not let you go. I always have to smile. The hair on the back of your neck stands up as the tension and terror mount but no one is “doing’ anything. The protagonists usually but not always escape with their lives, but the plot rarely ends satisfactorily as the corruption of, money, politics and the system tend to confound the situation. A bitter cynicism pervades many of his later books.

I have read, and own with my son, all his books but one. (The Naïve and Sentimental Lover as after reading a third of it and finding it did not appear to be a spy novel, nor have a plot of any kind, I pitched it). Several of his books have been made into movies beginning with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, starring Richard Burton. Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s people have been made into superb miniseries by BBC, starring Alex Guinness as George Smiley. Several others of his novels have also been made into BBC miniseries which I will attempt to acquire.

George Smiley and related novels

·         Call for the Dead (1961)

·         A Murder of Quality (1962)

·         The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963)

·         The Looking Glass War (1965)

·         Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974)

·         The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)

·         Smiley's People (1979)

·         The Russia House (1989)

·         The Secret Pilgrim (1990)

·         The Night Manager (1993)

·         A Legacy of Spies (2017)



·         The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971)

·         A Perfect Spy (1986)



·         A Small Town in Germany (1968)

·         The Little Drummer Girl (1983)

·         Our Game (1995)

·         The Tailor of Panama (1996)

·         Single & Single (1999)

·         The Constant Gardener (2001)

·         Absolute Friends (2003)

·         The Mission Song (2006)

·         A Most Wanted Man (2008)

·         Our Kind of Traitor (2010)

·         A Delicate Truth (2013)

·         Agent Running in the Field (2019)

·         Silverview (October 2021)



  1. There was a very good movie made out of "Tinker, Tailor" just a few years ago, starring Gary Oldman as Smiley and with Colin Firth in it as well. It's worth a watch if you can lay hands on a copy!

    I read somewhere that John LeCarre's spy world was one of grey, buttoned-down, emotionally repressed men and that seems about right.

    1. I have that movie. It was OK. Have you seen The Russia House? I first saw it on the plane going to Moscow for the first time in 1991. Watching it 30 years later and knowing all the background stuff made it very interesting. Followed the book pretty close.
      I read that analysis of LeCarre's world too and think it was in The Guardian's obituary. Pretty close to the mark.

    2. No, I've never seen "The Russia House." I'll keep my eyes peeled for it -- maybe it'll pop up on the oldies station one day!

  2. The authors we cherish (and forgive for the very occasional fall from grace) are wonderful aren't they? A wonderful place to revisit...

    1. Certainly true. I have a number of favourite authors. Some have yet to disappoint me and others. . . we cannot expect perfection every time, can we?

  3. Never heard of him.
    Coffee is on and stay safe

  4. Favourite books are like old friends, aren't they? It's interesting that there's one book in le Carré's work that seems so different and disappointing. No author ever writes a book intending to disappoint his/her fans, but sometimes it happens no matter how hard we try. It's nice of you to not expect perfection every time. :-)

    1. The Naïve and Sentimental Lover is classed as semi-autobiographical. LeCarre had a difficult relationship with his father and it shows up in a few of his works.
      "It's nice of you to not expect perfection every time." As if he or anyone else cares what I think, which is always a good thing.
      Do authors write for their fans or because they have something to say and the fans are attracted to it? You tell me as I know you have thousands of adoring fans for your spy novels.

    2. Aw, thanks! I suspect it's a mix. Some authors write solely as a platform for something they want to say, some authors write what they love to read, and others write what they think the most readers will want to read. Of the three types, I think the first two are most likely to find loyal fans who "connect" with their work, because it's a tremendous effort NOT to reveal truths about ourselves when we write. Maybe it can be done with the help of a rigorous editor, but if an author writes only "to sell books" and doesn't love or believe in what they're writing, I think their stories ring false with readers. But that's just my take on it - I'm sure there are as many motivations to write as there are writers. :-)

    3. So your books are semi-autobiographical? Ha. I knew it.
      I like to write, mostly short stuff, hence the blog. My interests are all over like a ping pong ball in a tornado. What I enjoy most is writing about something I need to do some background research and learn in the process. Synthesizing from many sources. It is the frustrated academic in me, I guess. I have a dozen blog titles I have been saving articles for since last April and am overwhelmed by the sheer volume which is why I have not written them yet.

  5. It's nice to have a favorite Author and/or Artist to Collect the Works of. Later works filled with bitter Cynicism as corruption of Money and Politics confound the situation... sounds like Art mirroring Life doesn't it? *Winks*

    1. LeCarre hated where he saw the world going and yes, art imitated life.

  6. Never read anything by LeCarre. Not sure why. One of these days. Maybe. Assuming our local miserable excuse of a public library has any of his books in its collection.

    1. I think you would enjoy him. My son who is more eloquent than I describes his writing as...suspense that unfolds over scotch in a sitting room, that tears you apart and leaves you blinking when it's done.
      Kindle books are between $5 and $20 if you are desperate.

  7. I've read many books but never anything by le Carre. Sorry no idea how to make the accent. But on your recommendation perhaps I should try one or two, but I don't usually read spy stories.
    Yes got the new laptop and YoungerSon set it up for me, now all I have to do is learn how to use it!

    1. Wonderful to see you back in action. I suggest you start with The Spy who Came in From the Cold. That is the book that made him famous. And if you can find the 1964 movie starring Richard Burton it is also worth watching.
      Learning to use a new computer or in my case cell phone is always a challenge.

  8. I've read most of his books but sort of fell off the last 5 years or so.need to pick them up again. Russia house was great.

    1. Oh, I am glad to know another LeCarre fan. I just finished the Smiley trilogy and the three earlier books leading up to it. I needed a break from historical tomes and daily politics. So nice to revisit old friends.


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