cover image A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré

A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré

Edited by Tim Cornwell. Viking, $32 (704p) ISBN 978-0-593-49067-9

The late author of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and other seminal espionage thrillers probes life, deception, and writing in these sparkling letters. The missives span le Carré’s student days, his early career in Britain’s MI6 intelligence service (which shaped his famous character George Smiley and other morally conflicted Cold War spies), and nearly six decades as a bestselling novelist. Included are gushing notes to playwright Tom Stoppard (“I loved ‘Shakespeare in Love’, & loved you for writing it”); defensive apologies to an Oxford pal who he spied upon; ripostes to readers who caught mistakes in his works; thoughts on political events (“I hate Brexit, hate Trump, fear the rise of white fascism everywhere”); complaints about his father; and a withering dismissal of Salman Rushdie (“Nobody has a God-given right to insult a great religion and be published with impunity”). Le Carré’s letters are witty, affable, unctuous toward celebrities, tartly venomous toward unfair critics, and full of a subtle, penetrating literary sensibility. (He praised actor Alec Guinness’s portrayal of Smiley, with his “mildness of manner, stretched taut... by an unearthly stillness and an electrifying watchfulness.”) Le Carré’s fans shouldn’t miss this stimulating compendium. (Dec.)