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Carré​ on spying

John​ Sutherland

3 April 1986
A Perfect Spy 
by John​ le Carré.
Hodder, 463 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 9780340387849
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The Novels of John​ le Carré 
by David Monaghan.
Blackwell, 207 pp., £12.50, September 1985, 0 631 14283 5
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Taking sides: The Fiction of John​ le Carré 
by Tony Barley.
Open University, 175 pp., £20, March 1986, 0 335 15251 1
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John​ le Carré 
by Peter Lewis.
Ungar, 228 pp., £10.95, August 1985, 0 8044 2243 5
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A Servant’s Tale 
by Paula Fox.
Virago, 321 pp., £9.95, February 1986, 0 86068 702 3
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A State of Independence 
by Caryl Phillips.
Faber, 158 pp., £8.95, February 1986, 0 571 13910 8
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... John le Carré has patiently established himself over the last twenty-five years as the discriminating reader’s favourite thriller writer. The BBC’s adaptations of the George Smiley trilogy in 1979 ...


Ian Hamilton

20 March 1980
Smiley’s People 
by John​ le Carré.
Hodder, 327 pp., £5.95, February 1980, 0 340 24704 5
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... The thing about John le Carré used to be that he was a brilliantly ingenious spyhack but couldn’t really write; and one way of getting back at him for being rich and famous was to mock at his almost lovably ...


Karl Miller: Smiley and Bingham

9 May 2013
A Delicate Truth 
by John​ le Carré.
Viking, 310 pp., £18.99, April 2013, 978 0 670 92279 6
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The Man Who Was George Smiley: The Life of John​ Bingham 
by Michael Jago.
Biteback, 308 pp., £20, February 2013, 978 1 84954 513 6
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... John le Carré has now published 23 books, the Great Bear of that night sky being the series of novels lit by the round English gentleman, spymaster George Smiley, he who wipes his glasses with the thick ...

Typical CIA

Ken Follett

18 December 1980
Who’s on first 
by William Buckley.
Allen Lane, 276 pp., £5.95, September 1980, 0 7139 1359 2
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... is to find out about the other side’s army, nevertheless the most prestigious section of an intelligence department is normally the section that spies on the other side’s intelligence department. John le Carré writes novels about this kind of espionage: we know that whether or not Smiley defeats Karla, it will make no difference to the price of eggs. The alternative is to link the spies with some ...

Born to Lying

Theo Tait: Le Carré

3 December 2015
John​ le CarréThe Biography 
by Adam Sisman.
Bloomsbury, 652 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 1 4088 2792 5
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... You​ don’t need the detective powers of George Smiley, or a conspiratorial mindset, to divine that something odd is going on behind the scenes of Adam Sisman’s new biography of John le Carré. In the past, would-be biographers have been discouraged from poking their noses into the business of David Cornwell, the former spy who has written under that curious pseudonym since 1961 ...

Belgravia Cockney

Christopher Tayler: On being a le Carré​ bore

25 January 2007
The Mission Song 
by John​ le Carré.
Hodder, 339 pp., £17.99, September 2006, 9780340921968
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... When John le Carré published A Perfect Spy in 1986, Philip Roth, then spending a lot of time in London, called it ‘the best English novel since the war’. Not being such a fan of A Perfect Spy, I’ve ...


John​ Sutherland

21 March 1991
by Roger Scruton.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 236 pp., £13.95, February 1991, 9781856190480
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Slave of the Passions 
by Deirdre Wilson.
Picador, 251 pp., £14.99, February 1991, 0 330 31788 1
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The Invisible Worm 
by Jennifer Johnston.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 182 pp., £12.95, February 1991, 1 85619 041 2
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The Secret Pilgrim 
by John​ le Carré.
Hodder, 335 pp., £14.95, January 1991, 0 340 54381 7
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... if not always human. George Smiley, on the other hand, has been physically impervious to the forty-five years of the Cold War. This curious fact is noted in David Monaghan’s monograph The Novels of John le Carré (1985). Smiley married his wife Ann towards the end of the World War Two. He was evidently then well into his thirties. In 1960, in A Murder of Quality, he was described as ‘the very ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘A Most Wanted Man’

24 September 2014
A Most Wanted Man 
directed by Anton Corbijn.
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... as they get someone – and that only our troubled hero cares about truth and innocence. But can this result-based frame of mind be as simple and total and empty as is suggested by this film (and the John le Carré novel it is based on)? Is the working principle of the war on terror that real terrorists can keep at it as long as lots of accused terrorists are picked so that everyone seems busy? Only ...

Short Cuts

Daniel Soar: Spies

22 July 2010
... of America – in Montclair, New Jersey; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Arlington, Virginia – has played with the idea that they were pantomime villains, a bit of a joke. ‘More Woody Allen than John Le Carré,’ the Sunday Times said, while nevertheless doing its best to turn its report into the raciest of spy stories, presenting a sexed-up version of the 55-page charge sheet released by the ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: Hemingway the Spy

16 February 2017
... else is falling apart.) The novelist answers the phone, swerves questions, bamboozles all attempts to enter his enclosure, and slides around in his own darkness. Exactly 146 interviews later, John le Carré, our premier narrative spook-meister, exhibits, by his own admission, that knack whereby the memory fails and the lie takes over. There is something in his tone that advises us not to ...

How was it for you?

David Blackbourn

30 October 1997
Man Without a Face: The Memoirs of a Spymaster 
by Markus Wolf and Anne McElvoy.
Cape, 367 pp., £17.99, June 1997, 0 224 04498 2
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The File: A Personal History 
by Timothy Garton Ash.
HarperCollins, 227 pp., £12.99, July 1997, 0 00 255823 8
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... John Le Carré called it ‘the Abteilung’, but the real name of the East German foreign intelligence department was the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung, or Main Intelligence Directorate, and the man who ...


Philip Horne

1 April 1983
The Slow Train to Milan 
by Lisa St Aubin de Teran.
Cape, 254 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 224 02077 3
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Holy Pictures 
by Clare Boylan.
Hamish Hamilton, 201 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 241 10926 4
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by Russell Hoban.
Cape, 240 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 224 02072 2
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September Castle: A Tale of Love 
by Simon Raven.
Blond and Briggs, 261 pp., £7.95, February 1983, 0 85634 123 1
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The Watcher 
by Charles Maclean.
Allen Lane, 343 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 7139 1559 5
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The Little Drummer Girl 
by John​ le Carré.
Hodder, 433 pp., £8.95, March 1983, 0 340 32847 9
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... who sometimes can’t remember if they have paid a bill or left a note for the milkman, may be unpleasantly affected by Charles Maclean’s workmanship in plotting such horror out of forgetfulness. John Le Carré’s new book, The Little Drummer Girl, has an unhappy English actress with radical leanings recruited as an agent by the Israeli intelligence service in order to infiltrate a Palestinian ...

Problem Parent

Michael Wood

17 August 1989
Memories of Amnesia 
by Laurence Shainberg.
Collins Harvill, 190 pp., £10.95, April 1989, 0 00 272024 8
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We find ourselves in Moontown 
by Jay Gummerman.
Cape, 174 pp., £11.95, June 1989, 0 224 02662 3
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The Russia House 
by John​ le Carré.
Hodder, 344 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 0 340 50573 7
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My Secret History 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 468 pp., £13.95, June 1989, 0 241 12369 0
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... a schoolboy thinks, ‘when I wonder if there’s a career in sadness, if somebody would pay me to just sit behind a desk somewhere and think sad stuff all day long.’ The central character in John Le Carré’s new novel is said to have ‘a whole self-accusing chorus’ within him: ‘He had people inside himself who really drove him mad.’ Not as mad as the people outside himself are trying ...
19 June 1986
The Siege: The Saga of Zionism and Israel 
by Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Weidenfeld, 798 pp., £20, May 1986, 0 297 78393 9
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... and even hysteria. The first argued that the Israelis should never return the Occupied Territories to the Arabs because such a compromise would lead to Israel’s death; the second attacked John le Carré for suggesting that Israel might have over-reacted (‘It is as if we British had lost our temper with the IRA,’ le Carré had written in the previous week’s Observer, ‘and decided to ...


Randolph Quirk

25 October 1979
Collins Dictionary of the English Language 
by P. Hanks, T.H. Long and L. Urdang.
Collins, 1690 pp., £7.95
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... with the LPO the next, so also do the professional lexicographers like Clarence Barnhart, Sidney Landau and Lawrence Urdang move from one dictionary house to another. Oxford (with R.W. Burchfield and John Sykes) is comparatively stable. When work began on the new Collins, Paul Procter and Della Summers were young conductors under impresario Urdang, and they later moved on to make dictionaries for ...

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