‘If there is a contemporary writer who’s given me richer pleasure I can’t for the moment name them’ STEPHEN FRY
‘One of the great postwar British novelists, and an unforgettable, unique character’ ROBERT HARRIS
Long after The Spy Who came in from the Cold made John le Carre a worldwide, bestselling sensation, David Cornwell, the man behind the pseudonym, remained an enigma. In this definitive biography, written with unprecedented access to the man himself, Adam Sisman offers an illuminating portrait of a fascinating and enigmatic writer.
In Cornwell’s lonely childhood Adam Sisman uncovers the origins of the themes of love and abandonment which dominated le Carre’s fiction: the departure of his mother when he was five, followed by ‘sixteen hugless years’ in the dubious care of his father, a man of energy and charm, a serial seducer and conman who hid the Bentleys in the trees when the bailiffs came calling - a ‘totally incomprehensible father’ who could ‘put a hand on your shoulder and the other in your pocket, both gestures equally sincere’. And in Cornwell’s adult life - from recruitment by both MI5 and MI6, through marriage and family life, to his emergence as the master of the spy novel - Sisman explores the idea of espionage and its significance in human terms; the extent to which betrayal is acceptable in exchange for love; and the endless need for forgiveness, especially from oneself.
Written with exclusive access to David Cornwell, to his private archive and to the most important people in his life - family, friends, enemies, intelligence ex-colleagues and ex-lovers - and featuring a wealth of previously unseen photographic material, Adam Sisman’s extraordinarily insightful and constantly revealing biography brings in from the cold a man whose own life was as complex and confounding and filled with treachery as any of his novels. ‘I’m a liar,’ Cornwell once wrote. ‘Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practised in it as a novelist.’
This is the definitive biography of a major writer, described by Richard Osman as ‘just the finest, wisest storyteller we had.’