John le Carré, a Master of Spy Novels Where the Real Action Was Internal

Here is a brief excerpt from an article by for The New York Times in which he discusses one of the most popular novelists who ever lived, . To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain information about deep-discount subscriptions, please click here.

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John le Carré at his London home. His books include “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “The Constant Gardener.”
Credit: Charlotte Hadden for The New York Times

Mr. Le Carré, who died on Saturday at 89, was a sane, sophisticated, morally ambiguous writer who possessed a vision of recent history, whether the Cold War, discord in the Middle East or adventures in torture at American detention camps in the wake of Sept. 11.


His novels delivered tutorials in how to brood, in fiction, without toppling into pretension. His spies knew how to handle themselves in tight spots, but the action in a le Carré novel is largely internal. His books are a rebuke to the action-man flexing in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels.


One of the pleasures of his penultimate novel, “A Legacy of Spies,” I wrote in this newspaper, was a reminder that adults were once in charge of the destiny of the free world.

Even if you are largely immune to the appeal of spy stories and genre narratives, Mr. le Carré’s books delivered a sting. So much incisiveness was inserted into pained understatement. His early books sketched, as he put it about his novels about the master spy George Smiley, “a kind of ‘Comédie humaine’ of the Cold War, told in terms of mutual espionage.”


You’ve heard of Mr. le Carré’s novels even if you haven’t read them. This is in part because of the multiple movie and television adaptations, some quite good. There are so very many of these now that a subscription service could be based on them. In part, too, it’s because he had a knack for titles.


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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Dwight Garner is a book critic for The New York Times. He was also, for many years, an editor for the Book Review. His essays and criticism have also appeared in The New Republic, Harper’s, Slate and elsewhere.
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