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The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life Hardcover – September 6, 2016
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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One of the NP99: National Post’s best books of 2016
“Recounted with the storytelling élan of a master raconteur — by turns dramatic and funny, charming, tart and melancholy.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“An illuminating, self-effacing and pleasurable inquiry into le Carré’s creative process, offering globe-spanning thrills of a different, but no less captivating kind than those associated with the novels.” —USA Today
“[Le Carré] is a polished raconteur, with an actor’s protean self-presentation, gifts of pace and timing, aptitude for entrances and exits.” —Wall Street Journal
“This incisive and witty memoir, by the man who long ago set the gold standard for modern espionage novelists, is a glittering treasure chest of great stories.” —The Seattle Times, "The Best Books of 2016"
“The Pigeon Tunnel is the literary equivalent of a long night spent in the company of a grand storyteller, who has saved up a lifetime of his best tales to share with you over several rounds of fine scotch. The collection leaves the impression of a man who has gone to impossible lengths for his words, bringing the farthest reaches of the globe, some of its cruelest inhabitants, and a small handful of genuine heroes back home for all of us.”—Entertainment Weekly
“The name ‘John le Carré’ attracts the audience, but it’s David Cornwell confiding in us here, as if over dinner, then chatting long into the evening over snifters of brandy, or, as he unspools memories of Russia, glasses of vodka.” —Associated Press
“The Pigeon Tunnel contains what le Carré calls 'tiny bits of history caught in flagrante,' all of them borrowed from the lived experience of a novelist whose career has more closely resembled that of a war correspondent than a literary celebrity....Spies are le Carré’s preferred subject, but through them he grapples with larger human truths that transcend the cloak-and-dagger underworld.” —The American Scholar
"Looking back on a life rich enough to spawn multiple globe-spanning novels...le Carré showcases his grand, cinematic sense of place and...the ineffable quality that defines a professional raconteur....The inviting, drinks-beside-the-fire style from a master of the craft never overtakes the details of le Carré's remarkable life or his strong insider's opinions on issues of geopolitical import since World War II." —Library Journal, starred review
“Always insightful, frequently charming, and sometimes sobering, the memorable tales told by master storyteller le Carré about his life will surely delight both longtime fans and newcomers.” —Publishers Weekly
"For all the cinematic glamour of le Carré's experiences, reflections on the workaday realities of fiction writing may provide the most engaging aspect of this colorful valediction. A satisfying recollection of a literary life well-lived.” —Kirkus Reviews
Praise for A Delicate Truth
“At the moment a new generation is stumbling upon his work, le Carré is still writing at something close to the top of his game. . . . [He] has not lost his ability to sketch, in a line or two, an entire character.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times Magazine
“The narrative dominoes fall with masterly precision. . . . As ever, le Carré’s prose is fluid, carrying the reader toward an inevitable yet nail-biting climax.” —Olen Steinhauer, The New York Times Book Review (front page)
“Timelier than ever.” —The New York Times
“Well-wrought . . . A sharply sketched gallery of characters.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Le Carré is fiercely modern. . . . a confluence of styles, voices, approaches . . . A novel that beckons us beyond any and all expectations.”—The Washington Post
“Gorgeous writing. It’s sophisticated storytelling at its very best.” —USA Today
“Le Carré is...at full power with a book that draws on a career’s worth of literary skill and international analysis. No other writer has charted—pitilessly for politicians but thrillingly for readers—the public and secret histories of his times.” —The Guardian (UK)
About the Author
John le Carré was born in 1931 and attended the universities of Bern and Oxford. He taught at Eton and served briefly in British Intelligence during the Cold War. For the last fifty years he has lived by his pen. He divides his time between London and Cornwall.
Top customer reviews
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While much of his success (in life in general) has been the result of putting a powerful intellect to work in a way that we all benefit, it is also due to his curiosity and willingness to go see for himself, no matter where his current quest may take him. He constantly refers to himself as a novelist and that he is, but he is also a first rate journalist whose historical reportage is nonpareil.
Personally, I found this book answered many of the questions that I would have while reading his novels. Whether inadvertently (doubtful) or intentionally, this book provides many aha! keys to his collected works.
If you like LeCarre, this quick read will make your day!
I’m a huge fan. But those lines about lying? Too clever by half.
Fiction is how we tell stories we couldn’t accept as non-fiction, because a reader would say there’s just no way that life happens like that. For example, who is more honorable, the king of Russian money-launderers or a London banker? The correct answer, based on evidence from the 2008 banking crisis, might well be the Russian. You’d never buy that. But in “Our Kind of Traitor?” No problem.
In “The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life,” le Carré drops the veil and delivers true stories — a set of reminiscences that are pointed and concise and, in that way, better than a memoir. If you’re not a reader of the novels, this may not be of great interest. If you like spy stories and believe le Carré is the Shakespeare of that genre, this book is a major event.
Consider the stories he tells:
Beirut, 1982, just before the Israeli invasion, with a parrot at a hotel that could that could deliver the start of Beethoven’s Fifth
Russia, just before the Berlin Wall falls
Alec Guinness prepares to play George Smiley
Rwanda, and its museum of the dead
Yasser Arafat on New Year s Eve, 1982
A meeting with Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, and his enigmatic smile
The best of the stories are the ones you least expect: accounts of his parents.
His mother left the family when he was 5 and didn’t resurface until he was 21: "I advanced down No 1 platform at Ipswich railway station for our great reunion after 16 hugless years, I could not work out for the life of me where to grab hold of her. She was as tall as I remembered, but all elbow and no huggable contours....From the day of our reunion until she died, the frozen child in me showed not the smallest sign of thawing out. He [Ronnie, his father] was always there, which I can’t say for my mother because to this day I have no idea what sort of person she was.... It was Ronnie who did the hugging, never Olive. She was the mother who had no smell whereas Ronnie smelled of fine cigars and pear-droppy hair oil from Taylor of Old Bond Street, the court hairdressers."
Which is not to say his father was a prize: "Ronnie’s life was spent walking on the thinnest, slipperiest layer of ice you can imagine. He saw no paradox between being on the wanted list for fraud and sporting a grey topper in the owner’s enclosure at Ascot."
It follows that le Carré is hard on himself: "Is there really a big difference, I wonder, between the man who sits at his desk and dreams up scams on the blank page (me), and the man who puts on a clean shirt every morning and, with nothing in his pocket but imagination, sallies forth to con his victim (Ronnie)?"
A rhetorical question. There’s a huge difference — a shelf of great books.
These discontinuous essays have elements of autobiography and background reportage that are the seeds growing into the master's engrossing tales of espionage and unsavory global dealings replete and contrite with moral ambiguity. They are most interesting (to me) for their insights in how the author parlayed a relatively short period of intelligence work along with some "father issues" (among others) into a body of work in which his characters, in motives, actions and outcomes seem quite more real than any actual world of spies.
Most recent customer reviews
Shows very interesting background of what became his novels.