Farewell to John Le Carré

HIs death is sad news, even given his long life, well-lived. He was not only an author who wrote excellent novels, both in terms of well-crafted plots and superb prose. He was an astute and often merciless commentator on politicians and other powerful people, and on the abuses and temptations of power. At the same time, his fiction was always informed by a profound and sympathetic understanding of human frailty and flaws. This comes through in every interview with that I have seen or read. His own memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, is a fascinating and illuminating read which I thoroughly recommend. Is it truthful? I think so. Is it the whole truth? I doubt that.

A while ago, I was delighted to learn that the twenty-something son of a friend had recently discovered Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Not only was he now reading every Le Carré he could get his hands on, he was recommending them to his friends, who rapidly became fans. Their reading experience is necessarily very different to my own, when I was reading those novels in my teens and twenties. If anything, this new generation is getting even more out of these books than I did. As well as insights into what makes men and women tick (and sometimes go off bang), these novels are period pieces, showing them a divided and suspicious world that passed away before they were born. A world that nevertheless still influences media magnates and politicians whose decisions today can be coloured by old prejudices and preconceptions. My friend’s son finds that highly illuminating.

There is an added personal poignancy to this news in the week of my stepfather’s funeral*. He and I got on well enough when he and my mother married, but with a background in academia and industry, he unsurprisingly found dealing with an adolescent girl baffling. Add to that, we were very different people; he was a scientist and I was determined to study history. We found no common ground in his passions for sport and steam trains or in my enthusiasm for SF and fantasy. Then the BBC broadcast their celebrated adaptation of Tinker, Tailor… Our shared enthusiasm for the programme, and then for Le Carré’s novels, made a connection between us that I value.

* He had been ill for some while, so we could prepare ourselves up to a point. However, the end came more swiftly than expected. So this cruel and difficult year ends on a deeply sad note for me and my family.

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