John Le Carre

December 17, 2020 at 4:08 pm (books, In memoriam)

David Ignatius has written a wonderful feature on John Le Carre for the Washington Post. It is entitled “LeCarre’s People.” In it, he states:

His spies and their world were based on real life, and yet totally his own inventions.

His spies and their world…and what a world it was, by turns bleak and terrifying, with long stretches of boredom in between. Its ethos was embodied in the character of George Smiley, played on screen unforgettably by Sir Alec Guinness.

The other great portrayal of a Le Carre character was done by Richard Burton; he was Alec Leamas in The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, surely one of the greatest espionage films ever, based on the novel of the same name, published in 1963. This was Le Carre’s third work of fiction; it vaulted him to stardom in the literary world, where, it being the early 1960s, such things still mattered to the general public – sigh…

The acclaimed, best-selling novel by John le Carré, about a Cold War spy on one final dangerous mission in East Germany, is transmuted by director Martin Ritt into a film every bit as precise and ruthless as the book. Richard Burton is superb as Alec Leamas, whose relationship with the beautiful librarian Nan, played by Claire Bloom, puts his assignment in jeopardy. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a hard-edged and tragic thriller, suffused with the political and social consciousness that defined Ritt’s career.

From the Criterion Collection site

Le Carre’s first two works of fiction are Call for the Dead (1961) and A Murder of Quality(1962). Both feature George Smiley in a more or less conventional detective setting. They’re a good way to make the acquaintance of Smiley. I enjoyed them both, especially A Murder of Quality, which is set at a boys’ boarding school and has that tense, claustrophobic atmosphere which often characterizes such places, both in fiction and in fact.

More recent tiles by Le Carre that I’ve enjoyed are A Legacy of Spies and Agent Running in the Field. That last came out in 2019. It’s hard for me to believe that there will be no more from the astute and brilliant pen of John Le Carre.

A YouTube commenter on the trailer for The Spy Who Came In from the Cold wrote, three days ago:

R.I.P. John le Carré. You are in from the Cold.

David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carre , October 19, 1931-December 12, 2020


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