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  • Richard Farr

RIP John le Carré - brilliant and underrated to the last

I met him when I was eleven or twelve, because one of his sons was in my class. He arrived in a Rolls Royce, talked affably in the headmaster's living room for an hour, and gave us all signed paperbacks of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Somewhere in the intervening decades I lost that copy, but I've never forgotten either his marvelous eyebrows or the fact that, when asked about research, he said something like: "Well, if I want to set a chapter or two in Berlin or Laos, I just go and live there for a few weeks." That - even more than the Roller - was what made me want to become a writer. And it was fun to see the school we were at showing up shortly afterwards, thinly disguised, in the first chapter (and wonderful first sentence) of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy:

The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races, Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.

I re-read A Perfect Spy recently. The sheer brilliance of the craft - for example the subtlety with which he uses unusual shifts of tense - makes most English "literary" novelists look like hobbyists.

Oh, and he said this: "A committee is an animal with four back legs."


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