Wednesday, October 16, 2019

A Most Wanted Raconteur

David Cornwell, the spy-fictionist better known as John le Carré, has long struck me as an ideal interviewee: philosophical, self-aware, and often surprisingly candid. For instance, his conversation with Fresh Air radio host Terry Gross back in 2017, at the time his last book, A Legacy of Spies, was being released, still ranks among my favorite episodes of that National Public Radio program.

Much more recently, le Carré spoke with fellow writer John Banville (aka Benjamin Black) for an article in The Guardian that covers his “toxic” childhood, his entry into the murky realm of espionage, and of course, his soon-forthcoming 25th—and possibly final—novel, a standalone titled Agent Running in the Field (Viking). As current British and American politics figure into that book’s plot, it’s hardly surprising to find the subject coming up in his exchange with Banville:
[Le Carré’s] attitude to Brexit is pungently expressed in the new novel. “It is my considered opinion,” one of the characters declares to [the book’s protagonist, a 47-year-old British intelligence operative named] Nat, “that for Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”

You can’t say plainer than that, even if you have made yourself safe by putting the speech into the mouth of one of your invented creatures. Le Carré says squarely of
Agent Running in the Field that “to me it’s quite an angry book.” But certainly it is more, and happily less, than a political rant.

“I didn’t want it to be a Brexit novel. I wanted it to be readable and comic. I wanted people to get a good laugh out of it. But if one has the impertinence to propose a message, then the book’s message is that our concept of patriotism and nationalism—our concept of where to place our loyalties, collectively and individually—is now utterly mysterious. I think Brexit is totally irrational, that it’s evidence of dismal statesmanship on our part, and lousy diplomatic performances. Things that were wrong with Europe could be changed from inside Europe.”

He pauses, then goes on, less in anger than in sadness. “I think my own ties to England were hugely loosened over the last few years. And it’s a kind of liberation, if a sad kind.”
You can read the entire interview here.

No comments: