The Pigeon Tunnel – Stories from my Life – John le Carré



le Carré ‘s stories based on his long life reads like a souped up version of one of his spy novels. Oxford student, teacher at Eton, recruited by M15 and then by M16 during the Cold War era; his civilian life as a writer. He’s met them all: mighty British Establishment figures, prime minister and politicians, former espionage colleagues, diplomats, no less than three heads of the KGB, traitors, fellow writers, Hollywood producers and actors. I loved his account of Richard Burton who acted the part of Smiley in The Spy who came in from the cold; and Sir Alec Guinness Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

He’s a very productive writer .Twenty three novels to his credit. I enjoyed this book far more than some of his novels. I read his early novels The Spy who Came in from the Cold, A Small town in Germany, The Constant Gardner but not his more recent books. I didn’t enjoy his convoluted shadowy stories , but I recently enjoyed two films The Night Manager (done so well by the BBC for TV) and The Tailor of Panama. Reading about his research for his stories, for example, visiting Panama, makes one realise that his success is the result of hard work and research.

I wonder : does he tell all?. Of course not, because he’s still bound by the British Official Secrets Act, but he does succeed in giving a good idea of some episodes, even if they’re not name and location specific. Having read the book I wonder how many seemingly mild and innocuous men, who work in some branch of government service, might actually be spies?

Reading le Carré ‘s memoir reminds me yet again, how amateurish the British spy services sounds , based so far as I can see, on the upper class Old Boy Network . I snarkily think: no wonder the traitorous Kim Philby deceived them for decades! I suppose my perceptions of secret agents are heavily influence by 007 Bond movies, and no doubt the truth is vastly different if we did but know it.
A fascinating book : recommended.


5 thoughts on “The Pigeon Tunnel – Stories from my Life – John le Carré

  1. Aanother one for a library lend, will reserve. My TBR shelf now has A Little Life and Sapiens awaiting me. I am almost at the end of The Dark Flood Rises, and enjoying it mightily.


  2. I’m behind on my blog reading, so I may have missed an earlier post of yours on the spy topic, but have you read Ben MacIntyre’s “Kim Philby: A Spy Among Friends”? It really drives home what an Old Boys’ Network the service was, and the risks inherent in that.


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