The Reluctant Former Spy

John le Carré

“I wrote The Spy Who Came in from the Cold at the age of 30 under intense, unshared, personal stress, and in extreme privacy”.

Thus begins John le Carré’s article in last weekend’s The Guardian, on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the most famous novel written about the Cold War.

le Carré writes candidly about his years working as a spy (“I was frequently bored stiff by it”) and of his largely unsuccessful efforts over the past half century to prove that The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was “the work of a wayward imagination” and that its merit as a novel “was not that it was authentic, but that it was credible”. The story in the book was a bad dream that has unfortunately became a reality to many, who are asking themselves “how far can we go in the rightful defence of our western values, without abandoning them along the way?”

It is always a pleasure to read le Carré, even when he writes for a newspaper. One would think that at his age, and after all he has accomplished, le Carré would have allowed himself some patting on the back or a little more self-assured posturing. Instead, the tone of understatement and hesitation is so palpable throughout the article, one cannot but admire this great author. I’m certainly looking forward to reading his new novel.

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