Over half a century since The Spy Who came in from the Cold made John le Carré a worldwide sensation, David Cornwell, the man behind the pseudonym, remains an enigma. He has consistently quarried his life for his writing, and his novels seem to offer tantalizing glimpses of their author, but in the narrative of his life fact and fiction have become intertwined, and little is really known of one of the world’s most successful writers.
In Cornwell’s lonely childhood Adam Sisman uncovers the origins of the themes of love and abandonment which have dominated le Carré’s fiction: the departure of his mother when he was five, followed by ‘sixteen hugless years’ in the dubious care of his father, a man of energy and charm, a serial seducer and conman who hid the Bentleys in the trees when the bailiffs came calling – a ‘totally incomprehensible father’ who could ‘put a hand on your shoulder and the other in your pocket, both gestures equally sincere’.
And in Cornwell’s adult life – from recruitment by both MI5 and MI6, through marriage and family life, to his emergence as the master of the spy novel – Sisman explores the idea of espionage and its significance in human terms; the extent to which betrayal is acceptable in exchange for love; and the endless need for forgiveness, especially from oneself. Written with exclusive access to David Cornwell himself, to his private archive and to the most important people in his life – family, friends, enemies, intelligence ex-colleagues and ex-lovers – and featuring a wealth of previously unseen photographic material, Adam Sisman’s extraordinarily insightful and constantly revealing biography brings in from the cold a man whose own life has been as complex and confounding and filled with treachery as any of his novels. ‘I’m a liar,’ Cornwell has written.
I first read John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy soon after it was published in 1974, and have reread it several times since. It is one of those books that never fails to give me...Read more