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John le Carre opened up for the first time about his experience with MI6, his writing process and his thoughts on everyone from Edward Snowden to Rupert Murdoch.
In his autobiography, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, previewed in part by The Guardian, he discusses his life as an author who “once happened to be a spy.” Born David Cornwell, the writer’s novels The Constant Gardener and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy have been adapted into films, and The Night Manager was turned into the Tom Hiddleston-starring AMC miniseries. Le Carre speaks at length about famous figures and Hollywood in his most recent book.
In his autobiography, he tells of meeting with Murdoch, prompting a brutal description of the 21st Century Fox mogul. The pair met in 1991, and le Carre writes that Murdoch now seems “smaller” than he did the last time he saw him. He “has acquired that hasty waddle and little buck of the pelvis with which great men of affairs advance on one another, hand outstretched for the cameras,” he writes of Murdoch.
His meeting with Margaret Thatcher didn’t go much better. Then prime minister, she invited him to lunch after le Carre refused a government honor. He used the lunch to plead the case of the “stateless Palestinians,” but she was dismissive, he writes, telling him that they had trained the IRA bombers who “murdered her friend Airey Neave.”
Le Carre speaks sympathetically of Snowden, but is harsh on Kim Philby, the British spy and journalist who betrayed agents to the Soviets and escaped to Russia. Britain has been “encouraged by spoon-fed media to be docile about violations of its privacy,” he writes.
“Nobody does silence better than Hollywood,” he says, commenting on his many novels that were adapted into films (and many that never made it, despite many meetings with directors including Stanley Kubrick).
Le Carre also includes a personal account of his childhood relationship with his father, a “con man” and “occasional jailbird.” His father, whom he calls “Ronnie” throughout his book, was abusive, causing his mother to “bolt.” He writes, “Certainly Ronnie beat me up, too, but only a few times and not with much conviction.”
He also delves into his writing process. He writes as he travels, in cafes and trains, and never uses laptops. “Arrogantly, perhaps, I prefer to remain with the centuries-old tradition of unmechanised writing.”
In the memoir, the 84-year-old author is also brutally honest about himself: “I have been neither a model husband nor a model father, and am not interested in appearing that way.”
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