Monday 14 December 2020

On the passing of a great ...

Sad news in the world of spy fiction with the passing of David Cornwell, aka John Le Carré, aged 89 after a short illness.

What is there to say about him that hasn't already been said, not just in the last 24-hours in the numerous obituaries published around the globe, but over his sixty-year career.

The spy's spy fiction writer.

A literary giant

A writer who transcended the spy genre.

A chronicler of our age.

He was clearly all these things and much, much more. It is rare to find anyone who enjoys reading spy fiction who has not read some - all - of Le Carré's books, from the most famous ones like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, to lesser-known works such as The Mission Song.

His contribution to the genre is without doubt. 

He was also a contemporary of Len Deighton (who is the older of the two, at 91 years old) as a spy fiction writer, and he, Deighton and Ian Fleming were, certainly in the 'sixties, often regarded as the big triumvirate of spy fiction authors who put the genre on the map and paved the way for many other authors in their wake.

While Len has been in effective retirement for two decades, Le Carré was writing new fiction well into his late eighties.

While readers around the world - and his books were popular in many markets beyond the UK and US - will mourn today, we shouldn't be too sad, because in a full and well-lived life he created unforgettable characters and stories which will remain with us for a long time to come.


  1. Le Carre and Fleming are the only 2 iconic authors who are widely remembered today, and characters they created have lasted even after several decades. Both worked in the intelligence services is different periods, and had the first hand experience of how the services intelligence dynamics functioned.
    Fleming focused on the unsettled post-WWII period, where Fleming assumed were opportunities to exploit the unsettled status with blackmail by powerful villains who had means to do so. Only a direct intervention by Britain which Fleming thought was still a significant Western power allied to America, was needed to stop the blackmail. James Bond was born as the super action agent of the British intelligence service. Those of us, who in our early university days aware of that world did really like what Fleming wrote, and liked his inimitable action -packed plots. James Bond became an iconic character who has lasted 6 decades. No mean achievement.
    Le Carre focused on the early 1960s period when the Cold War broke out and with the Berlin Wall appearing; the 2 Berlins became the setting which played out the games of the two sides in this War. Le Carre , an former insider of the intelligence service, knew the nature of these games, and this time unlike in 1950s more of an inhouse phenomenon in both sides; From the British intelligence service point of view, the work of moles and the processes, were needed to uncover. The plots which he so superbly portrayed in his novels attracted the likes us too who were matured by now, and read about the cold war and the 2 Berlins. A few of us even visited the Berlins, particularly the West Berlin to gain a first hand experience of how the country emerged and prospered post WWII.
    The cerebral thread that ran through Le Carre's intriguing plots ("The Sly who Came From the Cold") appealed to avid readers in America and Britain-particularly to the former, as America was a major player in the cold war, confronting the enemy across the Berlin Wall divide. My friends in America , where I was working and studying at that time, were very interested in what Le Carre wrote. The newspapers there were full of stories of agents and double agents in that German corridor of the cold war. Le Carre reigned supreme in this genre, and his creation of George Smiley was an outstanding success. No mean achievement too.

  2. The above was my appreciation o Le Carre as a novelist and a quintessential expert on spy craft of the Cold War in Europe. His novels created further interest from his readers the Cold War played out in the divided Germany. and as an extension in Europe where the big 2 powers held the sway.
    However, L Carre's politics in the recent decades manifested as rants in respect of Britain interested in leaving the EU, in the typical Guardian -style accusations, ignoring the difference between the EU and Europe. A superb analytical mind did not countenance the reality that the EU was the child of Germany and France, the 2 vanquished powers, which modelled the union of European countries as a political entity with an exclusive economic interests of their own: for Germany, it is a captive market for their manufactured goods delivered without tariffs, and for French, it is a dumping ground for their agricultural produce. He totally ignored the shameful sight of butter mountain, wine and milk lakes, destroyed to maintain their prices, while the poorer and hunger humans in need of such sustenance in the third world Africa died in masses. He ignored the fact that unlike the post WWII Europe, and in the midst of the Cold War where Britain had a role to play for a while, the emerging EU ignored it. The Germans and French were out to humiliate Britain in their power play. The politics of quitting this cabal called the EU was not exclusively right-wing politics which Le Carre and Guardian believed, but the left-wing Labour leaders in Britain in 1970s and in 1980s were strong Eurosceptics. This Le Carre ignored.