Death wanted to take John Le Carré just days before his island finally breaks moorings with the mainland: Brexit had become the latest obsession of this giant of British letters, Deceased at 89, he raised the spy novel to its finest. “My own ties with England have been loosening in recent years, and it is a kind of liberation, even if it is sad,” Le Carré told another great novelist, John Banville, in an interview for The Guardian a year ago.
In A decent man, his latest book, The Master of Intrigue recreated a UK controlled by a conservative government of “ten grumpy” and aired his pessimism about the current situation in his country.
Le Carré (whose real name was David Moore Cornwell) always found the just cause to fight for through his characters. If at the end of its days it was Brexit, before it was the US war against terrorism, the looting of the African continent or jihadism.
But if Le Carré will be remembered for something, it is for his espionage works set in the Cold War. His novels are part of the collective imagination that will last in time about that time in which two superpowers and two ideologies divided the world until they almost ended it.
Born in 1931 in Poole (Dorset), England, a student of modern languages at the University of Bern, then a graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, and a professor for two years at the prestigious Eton College, Le Carré left the latter institution in 1959 to start a career as a diplomat in which he would be recruited by MI6, the British spy organization. His career as a secret agent was, however, derailed in 1964 by Kim Philby, a double agent who betrayed dozens of British agents to the KGB.
Years later, John Le Carré was to be inspired by Philby for his Bill Halton character, nicknamed “Gerald”, in the novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which was simply titled El topo in Spanish.
Almost all the works of that period, such as The Spy Who Came from the Cold, belong to the spy genre except The Naive and Sentimental Lover, from 1971, based on the author’s relationship with James and Susan Kennaway after the failure that same year from his first marriage to Alison Ann Veronica Sharp.
Smiley versus Bond
Critics saw in Le Carré’s novels a replica of Ian Fleming’s James Bond, with characters of great psychological complexity, without glamor or heroism, called to act in often bland circumstances. His modest George Smiley was the perfect counterpoint to the idealized Bond and embodied like no one else the struggle of Le Carré’s characters to remain ethical in a world surrounded by immorality.
In novels like The Spy Who Came from the Cold, Le Carré does not see the world in black and white, that is to say in ideological terms of good guys and bad guys, but his treatment of the bipolar conflict in times of the Cold War always exudes strong skepticism towards both sides.
His critical gaze on the world gradually acquired a greater political charge, not only in his latest novels, after the fall of the so-called Iron Curtain, but also in public statements.
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, and in reaction to the curtailment of freedoms in the White House’s “war on terrorism,” John Le Carré accused the US press of capitulating as an independent and critical voice against manipulations. power. And in works like The Constant Gardener he did not hesitate to confront the pharmaceutical companies and their corrosive actions on the African continent.
Because the British writer already had a theme for his literature from a very young age: “The extraordinary, insatiable, criminality of my father and the people around him.”
Le Carré’s father, Ronnie, was a con man who also inflicted physical punishment on him, as well as on his mother, and was the one who marked the eminently moral character of the writer’s work.
The novels of John Le Carré are a purely cinematographic material, so much so that it has been easy to maintain their essence in the jump to the big and small screen. The first of the adaptations of his novels was the one that Martin Ritt made in 1965 of The Spy Who Came from the Cold, just two years after its publication. His faithful translation to the cinema became a classic of the cinema, supported by the interpretation of Richard Burton, nominated for an Oscar for his work.
A year later, Sidney Lumet had James Mason as Agent Smiley and, adapting his first novel, Call for a Dead, he was nominated for five BAFTA awards. The Drum Girl, with Diane Keaton and directed by George Roy Hill, premiered in 1984. In 1990 it was the turn of Russia House, with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer. And in 2005 came the most remembered film of those based on his novels, The Constant Gardener, directed by Fernando Meirelles. The interpretations of Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz – winner of the Oscar for this film -, and the score of the Spanish Alberto Iglesias – nominated for the Oscar – guaranteed the quality of this film, which achieved that, for the first time, a script based on a novel was chosen to the Oscar.
Among the best adaptations of his texts is El topo, (2011), directed by the Swede Tomas Alfredson, with Gary Oldman, Colin Firth or John Hurt.
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