The definitive biography of the internationally adored author of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and A Perfect Spy - arguably one of the most important and influential writers of the post-World War II period - by the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning biographer Adam Sisman.
In this definitive biography - blessed by John le Carré himself - Adam Sisman reveals the man behind the best-selling persona. In John le Carré, Sisman shines a spotlight on David Cornwell, an expert at hiding in plain sight - "born to lying," he wrote in 2002, "bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practiced in it as a novelist."
Of course the pseudonym "John le Carré" has helped to keep the public at a distance. Sisman probes Cornwell's unusual upbringing, abandoned by his mother at the age of only five and raised by his con man father (when not in prison), and explores his background in British intelligence as well as his struggle to become a writer,and his personal life. Sisman has benefited from unfettered access to le Carré's private archive, talked to the most important people in his life, and interviewed the man himself at length.
Who is John le Carré? Intriguing, thorough, and packed with entertaining detail, this biography will be a treat for the legions of le Carré fans.
©2015 Adam Sisman (P)2015 Audible, Inc.
I have not tried to read it however Michael Jayston does an incredible job and draws you in.
I have nothing to compare this with at present.
His voice and his delivery, Just great.
Well I am half way through having heard some of the abridged version on BBC Radio 4 which introduced me to this biography. I am gripped!
Well worth buying particularly as an example of truth being vastly more interesting as well as stranger than fiction
This was a very interesting life story.
The author begins by explaining that John Le Carre's grandfather was a hypocritical liar and like father like son Le Carre's father was also a fraudster and a liar.
This sets us up for the ultimate storyteller. He explains often that it is difficult for Le Carre to distinguish between his own recollection and his 'storytelling version' of his life.
"Other people's recollections differ." seems to be the order of the day.
As the story unfolds it necessarily becomes sycophantic in feel and just as you feel that things are getting too weighted that way the author reminds you that we are dealing with a self important individual, who would like to be considered as one of the high art literature set, but in reality is a great storyteller of page turners for the ordinary person.
So we get a statement from his publishers to the effect that Le Carre has never submitted his books for consideration for literary prizes. Immediately the author reminds us that prize givers can always call in a book if they consider it worth consideration!
We also hear, in close proximity, that Le Carre received $2.1 million for the American rights to one of his books and that whilst researching his next book one of his guides generously asks that Le Carre donate the fee, he would have been paid, to a children's charity in the African country where the next book is to be set. The guide, we are told, was expecting that he would have received "about $1000" but was amazed that Le Carre donated £25,000. It is not said that this is a paltry sum from this man whose father and grandfather were grasping greedy fraudsters, but the conclusion cannot be missed.
As always Michael Jayston reads with confidence and great characterisation. He offers just enough nuance to remind the listener that we are hearing the words Le Carre would like us to hear, though they may not be entirely accurate.
It is hard at times to distinguish between what is true, in that it really happened and what is Le Carre's excuse.
Two things are clear. John Le Carre is an expert storyteller, but not a nice man.
This is my first audible audio book. I thoroughly enjoyed the the linear narrative and Mr Jayston's narration lent it an official ministerial air in keeping with the John Le Carré subject. I hope I understand the man behind Le Carré now. Private, troubled bright and with a social conscience. Much easier to have a conscience as a writer than as an intelligence officer no matter how patriotic you are.
As its a biography, then the subject is determined by the person. Luckily history mirrored in his life and books has been so interesting.
This book is a comprehensive account of John LeCarre’s (David Conwell) life, from childhood until his eighties. The level of detail is impressive and it is clear that Sisman has thoroughly researched his subject. It included interviewing LeCarrie himself, reading letters to and from him, reading his books and relating what critics thought about them. And a wide range of people that knew and worked with LeCarre have been quoted.
LeCarrie seems to have come from a dysfunctional family and his life has been a complex one. This book provides the reader with a detailed, chronological, ‘ warts and all’ account. In fact, his story could be the source of a riveting TV series, documentary, or even a feature film. So if you want to know about LeCarrie then this is a good book for you.
In many ways you get two biographies for the price of one, since LeCarrie’s fathers’ life (Ron) is also covered in some detail. The fact that Ron was an incorrigible globetrotting confidence trickster who made an lost fortunes, spent some time at Her Majesty’s pleasure and rubbed shoulders with people as diverse as the Kray twins, pop stars and the aristocracy significantly enriched the book.
On the down side, I was uncomfortable with the level of detail that Sisman presented. We get to know about furtive glances, or holding hands, as well the feelings of LeCarrie and the people he interacted with. At one level it bought the story alive, rather than being a sterile list of things and events, on the other hand these details seemed unbelievable to me and it felt as if the book was oscillating between a ‘faction’ novel and a biography. Two thirds of the way through the book, the imposition of the author’s imagination lead to a psychoanalytical interpretation of a LeCarre’s book in terms of the relationship between father and son that I felt was speculative and unnecessary. Overall, I would have preferred a shorter and less embroidered narrative.
A comment about the narrator. The book is very well read by Michael Jayston (whom I think gave the definitive reading of the Geoffrey Household novel Rogue Male). However, in this case, I am not completely convinced that he was an ideal choice, as there were times when his acting skills added to parts of this book feeling like a novel.
In summary, this book tells you as much as you will probably want to know about John LeCarrie… and much more.
The reading by Michael Jayston does bring an additional element to the biography, without labouring the point he adds accents and intimation to the text.
The main 'character' is John Le Carre/David Cornwell - and as the book progresses it becomes clear that there is a real element of living a character to Cornwell's life. As the blurb says, this is the definitive biography. If you have a passing interest in Le Carre then you may find this rather heavy going.
However if you have enjoyed his novels or been interested in aspects of his life then this is a wonderful examination of his life, some of the contradictions in his interviews and the personality who created, Leamas, Karla, Smiley et al.
He adds moderate accents and delivers the text confidently. Mostly I enjoyed the familiarity of his voice - he plays Guillam in Tinker Tailor and narrates many of Le Carre's audio books. Like all good narrators, after a while you forget who is narrating the work and just absorb their reading.
No, it's a biography of considerable depth and breadth. I wanted to listen to reasonable size chunks at once, but not the whole book.
This was an enthralling biography which ran like a Le Carré novel itself. Michael Jayston is an amazing reader - mimicking cleverly characters we know. This has made me start to read the books again starting with The Honourable Schoolboy and the Perfect Spy - but the easy way this time, just sitting back and listening....
Sharp witted ex-spy
A Perfect Spy, which he wrote - so autobiographical
Excellent as ever, also the same timbre as John le Carre's own voice.
His early days at boarding school.
Could have had a great deal less about all the boring changes of literary agents, publishing successes etc and could have more about the interesting books he wrote.
I have been a fan of John le Carré for many years and an avid reader of his early works. I have read the Smiley spy novels several times. This book is a great insight to a very clever, intellectual writer. It has inspired me to read some of his later works.
I’ve always loved listening to the books of john le carre and I was excited to find out about this autobiography. And I haven’t been disappointed it’s a beautifully read by Michale Jaston and a fascinating look into a truly remarkable life. Made even more astounding but how many situations and characters from his books are obviously at least in part autobiographical though as Adam Sisman is at pains to point out le carre had mingled so much of his life with fiction over the years Its almost impossible to work which is which.
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
'People who have had very unhappy childhoods are pretty good at inventing themselves,' says David Cornwell / John le Carre and it's definitely true of him. His childhood was certainly unhappy. Unable to stand the deceit, philandering, violence and thieving of her husband Ronnie, Olive Cornwell walked out on him and her children when David Cornwell was 5 and his brother Tony was 7. They were left in the 'care' of their appalling father Ronnie who continued to dominate Cornwell's life through fear, emotional blackmail, expansive bribes and lies until Ronnie's death in 1975. When at their different schools, the two brothers would manage to meet briefly at intervals just so that Tony could hug his little brother to relieve their misery. Ronnie careered through his life with spells in prison for outrageous fraud alternating with the high life in luxury hotels all over Europe, treating various women cruelly, and through torrents of tears demanding the return of his sons when it suited him. Ronnie cajoled his great friend into investing all his money into one of his schemes. When he lost the lot, the friend killed himself. No wonder Cornwell was drawn to reinventing himself.
The best parts of this biography are Cornwell's childhood and early life. Ronnie believed in educating his boys (even if he did ask for reimbursement later on) and Cornwell was sent to Sherborne - which, narrator Michael Jayston please note is pronounced Sherb'n, not Sher-borne. Painful thrashings were prevalent at Sherborne in the 1940s, Cornwell hated everything about it, Ronnie was always defaulting with the fees and he left in 1948 aged sixteen to study German in Bern. Cornwall calls himself one of the 'frozen children' - his explanation for why he couldn't find happiness with his first wife and children and why he adopted the various guises which he wove into his fiction.
Sisman is excellent on the development of Cornwell as the emergent novelist, of his
towering strengths now as an all-time novelist up there with Graham Greene, and of the fictionalisation of Cornwell's complex life experiences, friends and acquaintances that go into his novels. The last third of the book will be interesting to writers and to those intimately familiar with all the details of the Le Carre oeuvre, but for me there was too much detail on editors' imput and reactions, reviews, film versions and so on. The whole is rather too long - but Michael Jayston keeps the momentum going throughout.
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