Tuesday, October 31, 2017

poet of the twilight

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.

My father read John le Carré novels. They filled his shelves. I never thought much about them or read one until I began writing. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Smiley's people, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Blew my eyes open. Can't say I didn't find them complicated but amazing in his descriptions of places, characters, telling details and locations. And touching because as a reader I cared about these characters, felt them, experienced the emotions, those nuanced details that brought alive a 'safe house' near the London docks operated by the Circus, the apartment of an exiled Russian factory worker in Paris. So aeons ago when le Carré still toured for his books, my father wanted to see him speak at a huge venue next to our City Hall. Before I could buy tickets he begged out. Now I realise that while his spirit wanted to, his body and mind wouldn't cooperate, he was in the beginnings of Alzheimers. But I attended and it was amazing. Not only hearing a writer talk - my first time listening to an author and what an author and speaker! -  but of his process,  his past in the espionage world and the poignant stories of his father, a con man and criminal, who he had to bail out repeatedly. Maybe it eased his own way into the secret world and maintaining a facade.

Remember Graham Green's dictum that childhood is the bank balance of the writer? I think that all writers feel alienated. Most of us go back to an alienated childhood in some way or another. I know that I do.

Then next day I called the venue to see if I could buy a tape (before podcasts) for my father.
Oh you know le Carré just called me before you did, said the woman in the office. Really? Why?
He wanted to write and thank the techs for their help and asked for their names. Hadn't there just been a podium, microphone and well lit stage? Yet such attention to detail. Thoughtful. But maybe that came from his training as a runner of 'joes'. Still, what a thing to do.

Writing is like walking in a deserted street. Out of the dust in the street you make a mud pie.

He writes in pen, and his wife types up his work. He said the Bodleian library practically threw up their hands when they asked him to donate his papers. Boxes and boxes and boxes worth. 

To me, and whether you agree or not, or a fan or not, he's been a voice through his work and layered characters. He's more than a national UK treasure but a living world treasure. Solzhenitsyn, Gunter Grass and many who spoke to our conscience are gone now. Who else has witnessed the Berlin Wall going up and later when it came it down and wrote about those times in ways that brought the readers as witnesses. How Smiley's nemesis, the Russian Karla had one weak spot - love for his daughter - that's a universality one can relate to. How the world he paints isn't black or white but shades of grey. He's seen the world through many decades of war and the Cold war, met the players, gone behind the lines, wrote a spy story while employed at MI5, took on big Pharma before it became popular,  and for an eighty plus year old man speaks lucidly and insightfully how what's happening now feels like he remembers in the rise of facism in the 30's. 

Proceeds from the tickets go to Medicines sans Frontieres 

I'd recommend hearing le Carré (David Cornwell) in his own voice while you still can. 

Cara - Tuesday https://www.johnlecarre.com


  1. Cara, Le Carre has been coming up over and over again with me and my friend over the past weeks. How I would love to hear his voice in person. Perhaps my luck will hold.

  2. He also had a big impact on me, Cara, although I've unfortunately never heard him speak. I have read all his books except the latest one. The Mission Song is one of my favorites, but that may be because of the African theme and narrator.

    I think it was Henning Mankell who said that Le Carre was the best writer who'll never win a Nobel prize.

  3. Bravo, Cara, I couldn't agree with you more. And a grand gentleman on top of it all.