The London Times has just published a lengthy interview, conducted by the paper’s Rod Liddle, with renowned British spy novelist (and former MI6 agent) John Le Carre. He spends most of it reiterating his anger, often manifested in his recent statements and writings, regarding neoconservatism and the war in Iraq. But there is one rather startling item:
And then there are the things [Le Carre] didn’t do but perhaps almost did – such as defecting to the Soviet Union when he worked for MI6. This is the sort of confidence I hadn’t expected, to tell you the truth.
“You were genuinely tempted?” I ask him, in some surprise.
“Yes, there was a time when I was, yes,” he says.
“For ideological reasons, like the rest of them – Blunt, Philby, Maclean?”
Le Carré is considered to be on the left these days, of course – a consensus arrived at largely through his visceral dislike of recent US foreign policy. One of that coterie of British literary greats – Pinter, Hare, Amis – railing at the supposed cretin in the White House, snarling about rendition and Guantanamo and Halliburton. Surely, though, he was not that far to the left, back then?
“God, no, no, no. Never for ideological reasons, of course not . . . ” “Then why?” Not money, surely, I think to myself.
“Well, I wasn’t tempted ideologically,” he reasserts, in case there should be any doubt, “but when you spy intensively and you get closer and closer to the border . . . it seems such a small step to jump . . . and, you know, find out the rest.”
Further on in the interview, Le Carre notes that in 1987 he was offered a chance to dine with the most notorious defector in espionage annals, Kim Philby – the model for the character Gerald in his own novel Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and the man who blew Le Carre’s cover to the Soviets and forced him out of espionage and into writing about it – not long before the latter’s death, but declined the opportunity because he did not want to meet the man responsible for the deaths of dozens of British agents sent into Albania in the 1940s.
In sadder literary news, David Foster Wallace (known to his legions of fans by his initials), the fiction writer, MacArthur fellow, and professor at Pomona College, author of the brain-bendingly complex (but widely acclaimed) thousand-page novel Infinite Jest, was found dead in his Claremont home Friday night, an apparent suicide at the age of 46.