I haven’t actually read many of Le Carre’s novels. I tried when I was younger but the cold, bloodless realism of his spy world always pushed me away. George Smiley ain’t no James Bond.
Nowadays I’m feeling the draw. While Bond’s glamorous, rollicking adventures are great fun I’m increasingly attracted to the more subdued but intricate plots and emotionally complex characters that Le Carre’s novels offer up.
Both Ian Fleming and Le Carre has short-lived careers in intelligence before turning to fiction. But while Fleming chose to fashion his experiences into a flashy fantasy, Le Carre kept his stories grounded.
Your appreciation for his memoir – a book he long insisted he would never write – will depend on your expectations. If you’re looking for a deeply personal or candid life story, you will be disappointed. Likewise, if you want a book about the craft of writing. Neither of these topics feature heavily.
What you get instead is a series of loosely-connected vignettes about Le Carre’s life travelling the world and meeting the larger-than-life people who would serve as the inspiration for his characters.
It’s nicely written and has a certain charm but don’t expect much more than that. Le Carre’s work is about secrets – and he doesn’t reveal any here, particularly about himself.