He transcended his genre: Tributes to author John le Carré

He transcended his genre: Tributes to author John le Carré

Authors, actors and admirers have paid tribute to the late John le Carré, the best-selling British spy writer who has died from pneumonia at the age of 89.

Ian Rankin praised his fellow writer for taking his chosen genre of spy fiction “into the realm of literature”.

Author Robert Harris agreed, describing le Carré as “a writer of immense quality” who “transcended his genre”.

Le Carré’s best-known works included The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Fatherland author Harris told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You only have to read a page and you know it’s le Carré”. His books would “still be read in a hundred years”, Harris added.

Susanne Bier, who directed the 2016 TV adaptation of le Carré’s 1993 thriller The Night Manager, told Today he had been an “incredibly contemporary” author.

“Even his old novels have totally current resonance,” she said, describing his prose as “exciting, thrilling and deeply romantic”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, historian Ben Macintyre praised le Carré for his insights into “the knotted timbre of human personality”.

“He was often described as spy writer, but he was far more than that,” he said. “He was really a student and expert in the human condition.”

Macintyre described the late author’s novels as “neatly plotted, beautifully written examinations of the human character”.

“The world of espionage was a perfect backdrop for profound psychological examinations on why people behave how they do,” he added.

Scottish writer Rankin told BBC Breakfast le Carré had lived “an extraordinary life” and that authors like himself “lived in his shadow”.

Rankin also revealed he had once “used a bit of spycraft” himself to obtain le Carré’s autograph at an event at the House of Lords.

“It was 1988 and he had no idea who I was,” he recalled. “I went up to him, said I was collecting everyone’s signatures as a memento. Really, though, his was the only signature I wanted.”

Actress Florence Pugh, meanwhile, revealed she had once jokingly called the author “an old fart”.

The pair met during the shooting of the 2018 TV adaptation of le Carré’s 1983 novel The Little Drummer Girl, in which Pugh starred.

“I watched his eyes light up with glee and we both cackled until we cried,” the British Oscar nominee recalled on Instagram.

“He peered at me over his glass and giggled, ‘I think we’re going to get along just fine.’ We knew a magical friendship had arrived.”

Other famous fans have used social media to pay tribute to the author, who died on Saturday.

“If there is a contemporary writer who’s given me richer pleasure I can’t for the moment name them,” tweeted Stephen Fry.

Stephen King calling him “a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit”.

Margaret Atwood tweeted that his novels featuring spymaster George Smiley – described by le Carré as an “antidote” to James Bond – were the “key to understanding the mid-20th Century”.

Historian and novelist Simon Sebag Montefiore described le Carré as “the titan of English literature” and said he was “heartbroken”.

Pointless star and author Richard Osman said he had been “the finest, wisest storyteller we had” and thanked him “for a lifetime of tales”.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, meanwhile, said le Carré – real name David Cornwell – had not only been “a great writer but a visionary”.

Born in Poole, Dorset, in 1931, le Carré worked in undercover intelligence before publishing his his first novel, Call For The Dead, in 1961.

His third novel, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, brought him worldwide acclaim and allowed him to take up writing full time.

He is best known for creating spymaster Smiley, who appeared in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and several other novels.

“We will not see his like again,” sad his agent Jonny Geller in a statement confirming the author’s death.

Two things stand out about this prolific and hugely successful author.

Firstly, his novels were the very antithesis of the glamorous, racy world of James Bond as depicted by fellow author Ian Fleming.

Whether it was the grim reality of waiting hours for an agent to cross back into West Berlin in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, or the drab, grey world of Cold War MI6 that he describes in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, le Carré stripped away the glitz to reveal a world of fallible, flawed characters.

Secondly, there is his extraordinary longevity.

Le Carré, who spent a relatively brief period with MI6, published his first novel in the same year that the Berlin Wall went up: 1961.

Yet long after the Cold War ended, decades later, he went on to diversify into writing about the arms trade, Big Pharma and the so-called War on Terror.

On the few occasions I met him he seemed genuinely surprised at his own extraordinary success.

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