The late spy novelist John le Carré wasn’t a fan of the telephone and was, by his own admission, a poor typist. As a result, much of his communication was done via handwritten letters and, later in life, the occasional email. In this collection, compiled, edited and annotated by the author’s son Tim Cornwell (who died last summer as the book was going to press), we get snapshots of a man whose life was, in one way or another, about deception and fabrication. The letters span seven decades, stretching from his schooldays at Sherborne in Dorset, to his final years mostly spent at his Cornish home, and show the many incarnations of le Carré: abandoned son (his mother left when he was five, after which he was raised by his con artist father), spy (at MI5 and MI6), renowned writer, husband, adulterer.
Actors David Harewood and Florence Pugh are the book’s narrators, both presumably chosen on account of having starred in TV adaptations of le Carré stories. While Pugh narrates the biographical sections, written by Cornwell to provide context, Harewood reads the letters, revealing le Carré as incisive, self-assured and opinionated.
As time passes, the tone becomes more polished and self-aware, an explanation for which can be found in one of the author’s many illustrations (available with the audiobook in an accompanying digital file). Next to a wonderfully lugubrious self-portrait, le Carré writes of his plan to “cultivate that intense, worried look and to start writing brilliant, untidy letters for future biographies”.
• A Private Spy is available from Penguin Audio, 16hr 4min
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Harlan Coben, Audible Studios, 12hr 30min
Scott Brick reads this tense dual-narrative thriller about a quartet of teenagers who disappeared 25 years ago while walking in the woods at summer camp.