"Out of the secret world I once knew, I have tried to make a theatre for the larger worlds we inhabit. First comes the imagining, then the search for reality. Then back to the imagining, and to the desk where I'm sitting now."
From his years serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War, to a career as a writer that took him from war-torn Cambodia to Beirut on the cusp of the 1982 Israeli invasion to Russia before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, John le Carré has always written from the heart of modern times. In this, his first memoir, le Carré is as funny as he is incisive, reading into the events he witnesses the same moral ambiguity with which he imbues his novels. Whether he's writing about the parrot at a Beirut hotel that could perfectly mimic machine gun fire or the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth, visiting Rwanda's museums of the unburied dead in the aftermath of the genocide, celebrating New Year's Eve 1982 with Yasser Arafat and his high command, interviewing a German woman terrorist in her desert prison in the Negev, listening to the wisdoms of the great physicist, dissident, and Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, meeting with two former heads of the KGB, watching Alec Guinness prepare for his role as George Smiley in the legendary BBC TV adaptations, or describing the female aid worker who inspired the main character in The Constant Gardener, le Carré endows each happening with vividness and humor, now making us laugh out loud, now inviting us to think anew about events and people we believed we understood.
Best of all, le Carré gives us a glimpse of a writer's journey over more than six decades, and his own hunt for the human spark that has given so much life and heart to his fictional characters.
©2016 John le Carré (P)2016 Penguin Audio
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
"if you were reporting on human pain, you had a duty to share it"
- John le Carré, quoting a dictum of Graham Greene, in 'The Pigeon Tunnel"
First, a disclosure, I was given this book by Viking Books. These types of offers I typically refuse. I don't like feeling under obligation to review or even read a book just because it was given to me. I might do it for friends, but even then, I am VERY picky about what I read. I have thousands of unread books and thousands of others I that are on my radar to read. I usually feel a bit like Melville's Bartleby, aroused only to the level of wanting to reply "I would prefer not to.". But this is John le Carré. Anyone who knows me knows I'VE been pimping John le Carré books for years. My goal is to be a le Carré completest by the end of next year (I still have yet to read The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama, Absolute Friends, Our Game, or The Naive and Sentimental Lover) but there is a sadness that comes with finishing, with having no country left to visit or no book left to read. I, however, own them all. Often multiple copies. So, how could I refuse a free le Carré? Also, so I wouldn't feel completely like I was writing for free books, I also went out to purchase the Audiobook so I could listen to le Carré talk about his own life.
Surprisingly, this is le le Carré's first memoir. That both feels a bit strange and a bit right. First, le Carré is a master at timing and also understands when is the proper point to introduce a character and how much to show. John le Carré, the pen name for David Cornwell, is often reluctant to do interviews (their is a bit about that in this book) and is a bit publicity shy. He isn't Pynchon or Salinger for sure, but the energy of pimping his stuff and his reluctance sometimes to delve into the narrative of his own life (he worked for awhile for both MI-5 and MI-6) and his relationship with his father seems to be something he is often reluctant to discuss. Ironically, these two issues feed his fiction heavily. His father and his relationship with his father's ghost seems to push through most of his fiction. So, too, obviously does le Carré time as David Cornwell the spy. There is a thin, unbleached muslin shroud between fact and fiction (le Carré talks about his in this book). Perhaps le Carré's greatest book, A Perfect Spy, which Philip Roth (yes, that Philip F'ing Roth) once called "the best English novel since the War" was grown out of David Cornwell's relationship with his own father.
The memoir itself is filled with anecdotes and loosely goes from past to present, but also breaks time's arrow to describe certain relationships with certain people or movies made of his books. I loved especially the parts of this book where le Carré writes about Graham Greene and the craft of writing. I knew le Carré got around, but after reading the memoir, I can safely say he belongs with George Orwell, Graham Greene, William T. Vollmann, Paul Theroux family of adventure writers whose fiction is informed from the trenches. They don't just know where some bodies are actually buried, they may have seen the corpse AND the murder.
So, why only four stars? Because I'm judging this book against his best fiction. This is a fun memoir and a very good le Carré. Again, going back to how this is his first memoir, I wonder why now? I hope he is not done with fiction. I hope this is not him saying, I'm done. He is in his 80s, and after he is done, I'm not sure what to do. We have been waiting for 400 years for another playwright to equal Shakespeare. How many centuries will we have to wait for another le Carré. Dear GOD, I fear too long.
JLC provides the back stories to many of his novels (real-life characters who inspired his fictional characters such as Leamas, Smiley, and others). Also, his travels and the research underlying some of the stories are discussed. Many amusing anecdotes re: meeting various luminaries such as the British PM McMillan, the president of Italy, Fritz Lang and various encounters with the movie industry.
the author himself and the author's father
A must for all
Le Carre devotees!
If you have never read the work of John Le Carre (David Cornwall) this book of remembrances will make you want to. If you are familiar with his work then this book is a treasure you will want to return to many times. The rare and exciting treat is that it is read by the author himself, who has the vocal talent and impact of a professional actor. Don't hesitate. Read (listen to) this book now!
A wonderful memoir - more a collections of vignettes from the authors life and work than a chronological biography. But the stand out for me is what a terrific narrator John Le Carre is. I hope he will consider narrating all his books.
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