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John le Carré

The Biography
Narrated by: Michael Jayston
Length: 26 hrs and 34 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (243 ratings)

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Summary

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.

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Riveting

Would you consider the audio edition of John le Carré to be better than the print version?

I have not tried to read it however Michael Jayston does an incredible job and draws you in.

What other book might you compare John le Carré to, and why?

I have nothing to compare this with at present.

What about Michael Jayston’s performance did you like?

His voice and his delivery, Just great.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

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!

Any additional comments?

Well worth buying particularly as an example of truth being vastly more interesting as well as stranger than fiction

12 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Comprehensive

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.

9 people found this helpful

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Not a Nice Man

Where does John le Carré rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This was a very interesting life story.

Who was your favorite character and why?

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.

Have you listened to any of Michael Jayston’s other performances? How does this one compare?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

6 people found this helpful

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Never a dull moment!

The first third of this long book is really a biography of the Le Carre's father whose behaviour, if it was fiction, would seem too over-the-top to be true for he was an incorrigible rogue who defrauded all and sundry and most despicably his friends and family many of whom could ill afford to lose their savings. He roped his young sons into aiding and abetting his scams. Not surprisingly he ended up in prison several times. He seems he, like the best confidence tricksters had charm that also enticed many women to trust him. After this amazing start to the book we learn more about the writer and his, at times rackety life. but also great insight into the inspiration for his many books. It is remarkable how many he wrote and what a high percentage were best-sellers. Le Carre comes over as a man of principle but reserved over what makes him tick. He certainly has had an hugely eventful and usually satisfying life after a difficult beginning owing to his insecure early years. Maybe that is a help to the creative novelist?
The book is enhanced by the excellent narration by Michael Jayston

2 people found this helpful

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Le Carre's People

Would you consider the audio edition of John le Carré to be better than the print version?
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.

Who was your favorite character and why?
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.

What about Michael Jayston’s performance did you like?
He adds moderate accents and delivers the text confidently. Mostly I enjoyed the familiarity of his voice - he plays Guillam in the BBC's 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.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
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.

2 people found this helpful

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Insight into a great author and his life

If you could sum up John le Carré in three words, what would they be?

Sharp witted ex-spy

What other book might you compare John le Carré to, and why?

A Perfect Spy, which he wrote - so autobiographical

Have you listened to any of Michael Jayston’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Excellent as ever, also the same timbre as John le Carre's own voice.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

His early days at boarding school.

Any additional comments?

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.

2 people found this helpful

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John Le Carré

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.
Not disappointing.
As its a biography, then the subject is determined by the person. Luckily history mirrored in his life and books has been so interesting.

5 people found this helpful

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Honouring the reader

It has been fascinating to hear this read after listening to nearly all of John Le Carre's books over these past eighteen months. His work is so multilayered,elegant in the written style, compelling in the complexity of narrative, finely observed details of landscape and nuance of gait and speech patterns and passion, compassion and wrath. Adam Sisman has mirrored this subtlety with a robust directness and the honouring, respect and compassion for many of the people he writes about in this biography.
I have had this on for a night and a day, it has been so compelling.
I have found the linking of external events, sequencing, highs and lows, twists and turns of the landscape of your subject's life masterly and enlightening.
This is a brilliant book about a brilliant and complex man. It captures the depth of great love between people and the unconscious unkindness, the competitiveness of some of the individuals and the magnanimity and reconciliation too.
I liked the introduction very much , it set the stage and tone of the book.
And as always Michael Jayston read it impeccably. A joy to hear his voice and the interpretation of each character.
I feel immersed in this narrative. Just wonderful to come out into the peace of my cottage in North Wales in the early hours.
The jarring American voice from the audible stable at the end made me swear and laugh in the same breath. Just like life!
Julie
I lived in Cornwall for a while at Crean, I know Sancreed and various other places you mention so well and the way the author described them and the part each area played in the narrative took me to he places in every sense. Having worked in Prague after the Russians were ousted, I have the images of the dark menacing areas of the city, the ramshackle airport and the terrifying empty hospital visited at night for help.

1 person found this helpful

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An Honourable Writer

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....

1 person found this helpful

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An excellent biography of a great writer

If you could sum up John le Carré in three words, what would they be?

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.

1 person found this helpful