John le Carré in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel


Author John le Carré at his home in London, England, in 2008. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

First aired on Writers & Company (26/05/13)

Legendary spy novelist John le Carré recently spoke with Writers & Company host Eleanor Wachtel in what he declared would be his last interview ever. They talked about his latest novel A Delicate Truth, his work with British intelligence during the Cold War, the 50th anniversary of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and his legacy as one of the greatest writers of post-war England.


In A Delicate Truth, le Carré takes a look at the British Secret Intelligence Service in 2008, after Tony Blair passes the torch of leadership to his successor, Gordon Brown.

"This is a fascinating period to write about Britain. It's volatile, it's capable, eventually, of major evolutionary change, even in the rest of my lifetime, so that's what turned me inward and that's what concerns me deeply," le Carrésaid.

He went on to explain that this is also a unique time in history to write about Britain's intelligence agency because of its changing role. "What made me look inward was an increasing concern about the way our society is administered and the way the British electorate seems increasingly alienated from the systems of authority and power which in theory it controls."

Le Carré has said that A Delicate Truth, which is his 23rd novel, comes "closest his skin" than any of his other books. When asked to elaborate, he said: "Well, I took two men at the centre of the story, one at 30, and one over 60. I'm vastly over 60 but I was once 30 and I tried to imagine myself in each of those skins and I want to believe that I would have acted finally with the same integrity with which those two characters did finally act."

Le Carré's career as a spy novelist was of course inspired by his own time with the British Secret Intelligence Service during the Cold War. "I wrote my first three novels and by then I was saying goodbye to that world in my mind," he said. "I thought that the secret world would get on very well without me and as a writer I knew that I had found the theatre that I wanted to write about. Every writer sooner or later has to find his own playpen, his own sandpit where he's going to write for the rest of his life."

There's no doubt that le Carré has led a full life as a novelist: this year marks the 50th anniversary of his novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which is still regarded as one of the best espionage novels of all time.

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