CRF Blog

John le Carré Has Not Mellowed With Age

by Bill Hayes

In John le Carré Has Not Mellowed With Age, New York Times Magazine profiles the noted British author.

It is hard to blame le Carré for being in a cheerful mood. As he enters his ninth decade, he is in the midst of a hardy late-career bloom, thanks in no small part to the critical and popular success of the 2011 film “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” based on his 1974 cold-war espionage classic of the same name. Subtle, somber and intellectually dexterous, the movie, which featured Gary Oldman as le Carré’s venerable MI6 master spy George Smiley, was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Oldman.

The film made his backlist fly from bookstore shelves. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” alone sold more than a million copies in paperback and e-books last year — some 500,000 in the United Kingdom, 350,000 in North America and 150,000 in Germany and France. And it rekindled Hollywood’s interest. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams recently finished shooting “A Most Wanted Man,” based on le Carré’s 2008 thriller indicting the war on terror, which is scheduled for release next year. Ewan McGregor will star in a film adaptation of le Carré’s 2010 novel, “Our Kind of Traitor,” about a British couple on a tennis holiday who become entangled in a Russian defection. What’s more, Oldman may reprise his performance as Smiley when the movie version of “Smiley’s People,” the sequel to “Tinker Tailor,” is made.

Le Carré likes to visit these film sets — two of his four adult sons, Simon and Stephen, are the producers behind several of the adaptations — but only early on, and only to voice encouragement and to sprinkle what he calls “pixie dust.” After that, he leaves filmmakers alone, telling them they can call if necessary.

At the moment a new generation is stumbling upon his work, le Carré is still writing at something close to the top of his game. His 23rd novel, “A Delicate Truth,” about a supposed counterterrorist operation on the British overseas territory of Gibraltar gone dismally wrong, will be out next month. The book is an elegant yet embittered indictment of extraordinary rendition, American right-wing evangelical excess and the corporatization of warfare. It has a gently flickering love story and a jangling ending. And le Carré has not lost his ability to sketch, in a line or two, an entire character. [more]