This week we lost John le Carré, the author of thrillers that are a mix of adventure, moral courage and literary flair. He was 89 years old when he was taken on Saturday, gone from pneumonia. He remained handsome and patrician to the end.
In his work, Le Carré explored the gap between the West’s high-flown rhetoric of freedom and the gritty reality of defending it.
Born as David John Moore Cornwell in 1931, with 25 novels, le Carré was a prolific chronicler of wretchedness, betrayal and damaged faith. I have only read a few, but I love the film and televisions adaptations of his work:
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965), directed by Martin Ritt, with Richard Burton
The Deadly Affair (1966), directed by Sidney Lumet, with James Mason
The Looking Glass War (1969), directed by Frank Pierson, with Anthony Hopkins
The Little Drummer Girl (1984), directed by George Roy Hill, with Diane Keaton
The Russia House (1990), directed by Fred Schepisi, with Sean Connery
The Tailor Of Panama (2001), directed by John Boorman, with Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush
The Constant Gardner (2005), directed by Fernando Meirelles, with Ralph Fiennes
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), directed by Tomas Alfredson, starring Gary Oldman
A Most Wanted Man (2014), directed by Anton Corbijn, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman
Our Kind Of Traitor (2016), directed by Susanna White, with Ewan McGregor
There’s more. On television: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979), BBC series, with Alec Guinness; Smiley’s People (1982), BBC television series, with Alec Guinness; A Murder Of Quality (1991), Thames Television, with Denholm Elliott; The Little Drummer Girl (2018), BBC, with Michael Shannon and Alexander Skarsgård .
My favorite John le Carré adaptation is The Night Manager (2016), BBC, with Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie. I give it an A+.
He had just published another novel last year: Agent Running In The Field.
Early in his career he worked for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6. Le Carré says he is “haunted” by what is currently happening in the world:
“If we can make people feel that the social contract is back in place and they’re part of it, then possibly we have a future.”
In his essay The United States Has Gone Mad, le Carré stated:
”I think of all things that were happening across Europe in the 1930s, in Spain, in Japan, obviously in Germany. To me, these are absolutely comparable signs of the rise of fascism today and it’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary.”
If we can only shake off the rhetoric that drives us, and the lies that drive us, and we can address things like the ecology, things like the inequity of reward, the unfairness of the distribution of wealth at the most elementary levels. If we can make people feel that the social contract is back in place and they’re part of it, then possibly we have a future.
But if we just go on cascading into expansion, blind expansion, if we go on believing that there is unlimited expansion in a limited globe, I think we are heading for destruction. The globe will survive but mankind won’t. Not in this form.”
For a long time, he enjoyed ”playing” that he is gay, and he has encouraged others to add to it rumors. Le Carré:
”I’m a liar. Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living.”