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Authors and actors lead tributes to Spyscape’s literary hero

From Stephen King to the head of MI6, le Carré’s fans paid tribute to the boy from Poole, Dorset, who grew up reading John Buchan thrillers and Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Le Carré also found solace and inspiration in German literature: “When I came to study the drama of Goethe, Lenz, Schiller, Kleist and Buchner, I discovered that I related equally to their classic austerity and to their neurotic excesses. The trick, it seemed to me, was to disguise the one with the other.” 




He made secretive cameo appearances

Despite his reclusive nature, le Carré was happy to appear in bit parts on the big screen. During an MI6 party in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, he stood next to a man dressed as Lenin. He joined the cast of A Most Wanted Man as an extra in a bar scene and in Our Kind of Traitor le Carré appeared as a German guard at the Einstein museum. He also posed as a waiter in The Little Drummer Girl and as an outraged diner exchanging lines with Tom Hiddleston in The Night Manager. Unsurprisingly, le Carré insisted on rewriting his lines.




He was an enigma, even to himself

Le Carré knew England’s secrets better than his own and his introspective nature led him to explore the psychology of identity and solitude. “The solitary interests me,” le Carré explained. “In part I have been a lonely person. Certainly the spy interests me because it is the solitary place in the collective position.” 




He was approached by MI5 when he was 17 years old 

Le Carré excelled as an academic and linguist. He learned German at 13, reveling in its lyricism. By 17, he was studying German at the University of Bern and the security services were already circling. A woman from the British Embassy’s visa section offered le Carré a job delivering ‘’I knew not what to I knew not whom,’ he recalled in The Pigeon Tunnel. A spy was born. 




He never quite accepted or fully understood his success

Le Carré modestly thought his breakout novel was the work of a 30-year-old’s wayward imagination, pushed to the end of its tether by personal confusion and political disgust. Years later, he described The Spy Who Came in From the Cold as a “not-very-well disguised internal explosion” that changed his life. It also changed the trajectory of spy fiction, transporting the espionage genre into an art form and le Carré into an undisputed giant of English literature. 





Even his death revealed a few secrets!

Two of his friends revealed secrets after he died: According to playwright Tom Stoppard, le Carré recently spoke with joy and relief at the prospect of another book project he had in mind; and according to author John Banville, le Carre talked of relocating to Ireland - “giving up on Brexitland” - and had visited Dublin and Cork to investigate his father’s roots.




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