The real John le Carré

P28_Walden_WEB_1199817hGeorge Walden at the Times Literary Supplement:

In the life of David Cornwell, alias John le Carré, mysteries remain, since along with the author’s powers of fantasy went an easy-going relationship to the facts. After a spell with MI5 at the age of twenty-six, in 1960 he switched to the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), yet he remains reluctant to confirm that he ever worked there, explain how he came across his non de plume, or come clean about various episodes in his past. Professional mystification? Or as Adam Sisman repeatedly suggests, false memory? “Everything he says”, Sisman states in an introduction, “needs to be examined sceptically.” This is not the voice of an authorized biographer – Cornwell didn’t want one – though that of a friend.

If the book begins on a tragicomic note it is because of Ronnie, David’s con-man father. His surreal schemes can be entertaining (“In New York Ronnie checked into the Plaza Hotel, announcing that he was in town to sell Bethlehem steel, America’s largest shipbuilder . . . ”), but for his sons David and Tony they were not so funny. A childhood running from scam to scam and house to house was to cost them their mother, who abandoned her children when David was five. The effects were as you might expect, and the father’s gift for make-believe appears to have rubbed off on his son. When David claimed at Oxford that he had quit Sherborne after a housemaster tried to kiss him, for example, Sisman implies that the episode may have been invented to boost his anti-Establishment credentials, something to which Cornwell was to devote much of his life.

more here.