A collection of letters by the late novelist John le Carré is to be published later this year. A Private Spy: The Letters of John le Carré 1945-2020 spans almost eight decades, from the author’s childhood in wartime Britain to a few days before his death in 2020. It contains letters to le Carré’s family and friends as well as to high profile fans such as Hugh Laurie, Ralph Fiennes, Stephen Fry, Alec Guinness and Tom Stoppard.
Topics range from politics and writing to his first marriage and his relationship with his father, Ronnie Cornwell, a swindler who spent four years in prison and was a colleague of the Kray brothers in London’s criminal fraternity. Le Carré’s publisher, Viking, has called the book “the most intimate portrait of the great author that will ever be published”.
The letters have been selected and edited by le Carré’s son, journalist Tim Cornwell, who said the experience was a “huge privilege”.
He added: “My father was brave in the way he spoke for what he believed in, brave in the places and topics he tackled in his writing, and brave in the way he faced illness. His friendships , his obsessions and his sharp wit were no surprise, nor the pure joy of his writing voice: I recognized the man I knew in every syllable, I hope others will enjoy the journey as much as I have done, and laugh, cry and sometimes shake with me as they read these letters and travel with my father. “
Le Carré has previously had a career in British intelligence, working for MI5 and MI6 in the 1950s and 1960s, before starting to write, and garnered worldwide critical acclaim for novels such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Night Leader. He died in 2020, aged 89, and A Private Spy will mark his second book published posthumously: his novel Silverview was published last year.
Mary Mount, le Carré’s editor at Penguin, said reading the letters was “a very exciting and moving experience”. She added: “We are back in his company again and listening to the incomparable voice: his fiercely sharp observations, his humor, his tenderness, his rage. I can not wait for readers to enjoy this collection, wonderfully edited by his son Tim , as much as I have done. “