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  • Published: 19 September 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241994559
  • Imprint: Penguin General UK
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 752
  • RRP: $26.99

A Private Spy

The Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020

A collection of letters from John le Carré, one of the greatest British novelists of our time, and a fabulous letter writer, spanning decades from his childhood to his final years

A Private Spy spans seven decades and chronicles not only le Carré's own life but the turbulent times to which he was witness. Beginning with his 1940s childhood, it includes accounts of his National Service and his time at Oxford, and his days teaching the 'chinless, pointy-nosed gooseberry-eyed British lords' at Eton. It describes his entry into MI5 and the rise of the Iron Curtain, and the flowering of his career as a novelist in reaction to the building of the Berlin Wall. Through his letters we travel with him from the Second World War period to the immediate moment in which we live.

We find le Carré writing to Sir Alec Guinness to persuade him to take on the role of George Smiley, and later arguing the immorality of the War on Terror with the chief of the German internal security service. What emerges is a portrait not only of the writer, or of the global intellectual, but, in his own words, of the very private, very passionate and very real man behind the name.

  • Published: 19 September 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241994559
  • Imprint: Penguin General UK
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 752
  • RRP: $26.99

About the author

John le Carré

John le Carré was born in 1931. For six decades, he wrote novels that came to define our age. The son of a confidence trickster, he spent his childhood between boarding school and the London underworld. At sixteen he found refuge at the university of Bern, then later at Oxford. A spell of teaching at Eton led him to a short career in British Intelligence (MI5&6). He published his debut novel, Call for the Dead, in 1961 while still a secret servant. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, secured him a worldwide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People. At the end of the Cold War, le Carré widened his scope to explore an international landscape including the arms trade and the War on Terror. His memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, was published in 2016 and the last George Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies, appeared in 2017. He died on 12 December 2020. His posthumous novel Silverview was published in 2021.

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Praise for A Private Spy

The finest, wisest storyteller

Richard Osman

A towering writer

Margaret Atwood

A literary giant

Stephen King

[He had a] rare command of language and unique understanding of how the world really works

Daily Telegraph on Silverview

Each letter from John le Carré was a beautifully written miniature essay ... fascinating

Ben Macintyre, The Times

A Private Spy testifies to le Carré's universally acknowledged gifts as a raconteur, mimic and caricaturist

Robert Potts, TLS  

Unsurprisingly, he was a brilliant correspondent. Revelations tumble out...These engaging letters are edited with great fairness and sensitivity by a family member, his son Tim Cornwell

Andrew Lycett, Mail on Sunday

The symbiosis of author and editor, father and son, has resulted in a brilliant book, le Carré's final masterpiece, 5*

Jake Kerridge, Sunday Telegraph