John le Carré Has Not Mellowed With Age


Dwight Garner in the NYT:

On a recent Saturday morning in February, two dozen or so scent hounds streamed through the streets of St. Buryan, a small village in Cornwall, England. Behind them drifted a loose formation of men and women perched atop well-groomed horses and wearing boots, breeches and hunting coats. As the fox hunt clopped through town, John le Carré, the pre-eminent spy writer of the 20th century, sipped from a paper cup of warm whiskey punch, doled out by a local pub to riders and spectators.

At 81, he remains an enviable specimen of humanity: tall, patrician, cleanlimbed, ruddy-complected. His white hair is floppy and well cut, so much so that the actor Ralph Fiennes, who starred in the 2005 film version of le Carré’s novel “The Constant Gardener,” badgered him for the name of his barber.

Le Carré is not a hunter himself, but he nodded at the people he knew and mounted a casual and running defense of fox hunting, as if he were doing color commentary from the 18th hole at the Masters. It’s an ancient part of the rural culture, he said. It’s egalitarian in this area (some 300 miles west-southwest of London), not an upper-class diversion. It’s also largely futile: an actual fox is rarely cornered. When one is, a trained eagle owl is brought in to kill it.

As the final horse strode past, le Carré swallowed the dregs of his punch and crumpled his cup. His eyebrows, so thatchy and animated that they seem ready to leap off his forehead and start nibbling the shrubbery, rose as he turned toward me, his blue eyes alight, and happily declared, “At least they aren’t hunting that poor goddamn thing with drones.”

Also see Emma Hogan in More Intelligent Life:


To use the jargon of spycraft. Smiley’s people are lamplighters, scalphunters and talent-spotters. Secretaries are “mothers”; spies on your side are “part of the family”. To be blackmailed is to be “burned”, a style of spying is “handwriting” and a failed mission is “being sent home in your socks”. Like boarding school, the secret service runs on nicknames and catchphrases. Le Carré’s skill stops this being irritating, and lets us join the club.