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A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020

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He told her that he planned to take a few days in Italy with Jane and then maybe go to America, “but under guard. A month later he wrote to Susan again, to tell her that he was getting better: “I’m waking up slowly, just give me time. Through Westerby’s eyes, we see how “a flow of air-force personnel was drifting in and out of the camp, blacks and whites, in scowling segregated groups … The mood was sullen, defeated, and innately violent. There is, however, a letter from 2001, from le Carré, addressed to two executives from the pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

But by melding his insider’s knowledge with his outsider’s perspective, le Carré ascended to a greater height. The correspondence that makes up “A Private Spy” is capacious in theme, but a steady through line is work. Westerby meets his contact, an American major drinking brandy while absorbing the news of his nation’s defeat. Rather tactlessly, perhaps, he mentioned that several married women in Panama had made approaches to him (he would mention it again in a subsequent letter); though he assured her that he had resisted them—not least from fear of what their husbands might do to him if they found out.

Men and women of conviction, on both sides, are swallowed up by a game of one-upmanship run by suits in London and Moscow. I never meant to be the person who did all the things you were keen on doing,” he wrote to his brother, an aspiring novelist, “Mr Successful, or Mr Literature. In “ A Private Spy,” a new volume of his letters gathered by his son Tim Cornwell, le Carré corresponds with an eclectic array of recipients, who had chosen all manner of roles: John Cheever, Ralph Fiennes, the president of an English book club in Siberia, the host of Desert Island Discs, and the former London station chief of the K. No secret service is strong enough to break its own rice bowl like this, and maintain its clout in the corridors of power.

Usually they were dreary, evasive letters loosening vows at the same time they renewed them, qualified, haunted, the reverse of reassuring. In my day, we were told we were little apostles for truth, pledged to speak fearlessly to power,” he said. So it is the double standard – to be unobtrusive, yet to command – which your physique perfectly satisfies.In a cruel twist, Tim Cornwell, 59, died of a blood clot in May, just as he was putting the finishing touches on the book.

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