Le Carre-d away: has the author’s alleged desire to defect become fact?

This, in Saturday’s Guardian, in Hari Kunzru’s review of John Le Carré’s latest book, ‘A Most Wanted Man’:

In a recent interview Le Carré was asked if he ever considered defecting. “Well, I wasn’t tempted ideologically … 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.” Though this has been reported as some sort of tabloid confession (“I was tempted to defect, says spy novelist Le Carré”), it seems primarily interesting as a key to his fiction, whose central concern is the exploration of the metaphorical borderland occupied by the proponents of any polarised conflict.

The Guardian, September 27 2008

Perhaps surprisingly, no mention of the fact that Le Carré says that his quotes were out of context, as this lengthy letter to the Sunday Times pointed out. Le Carré writes that his interviewer, Rod Liddle, chose not to use a tape recorder and  subsequently misrepresented him that he was misrepresented in the interview and this article:

… he [Liddle] failed to encompass or indeed record the general point I was making about the temptations of defection.

Lord Annan, I ventured in our conversation, had declared that four years of Intelligence work were as much as any sane man could stand. I painted for Mr Liddle the plight of professional eavesdroppers who identify so closely with the people they are listening to that they start to share their lives.

It was in this context that I made the point that, in common with other intelligence officers who lived at close quarters with their adversaries, I had from time to time placed myself intellectually in the shoes of those on one side of the Curtain who took the short walk to the other; and that rationally and imaginatively I had understood the magnetic pull of such a step, and empathised with it.

John Le Carré, Times Online, September 20 2008.

Presumably the Guardian Review’s editors and the writer, Hari Kunzru, were aware of Le Carré’s problem with Liddle’s interview and chose not to mention it, although Kunzru does refer to the tabloid-like sensationalisation of the interview.

A Google search for John Le Carré brings back reviews for his latest book, but if you search “john le carre + defect” it’s possible to see how far the Sunday Times reports have spread… The AP reported it as the Sunday Times did, and then it went far and wide of course.

Will Le Carré’s consideration of defection go down in the history books, with no reference to his complaint?

5 thoughts on “Le Carre-d away: has the author’s alleged desire to defect become fact?

  1. Pingback: links for 2008-09-29 « From the Online

  2. Hari Kunzru

    For the record, I wasn’t aware of Le Carré’s objections to Liddle’s interview. My review was filed before the letter was printed in The Times. I’m not surprised. Even from Liddle’s quote the inference that Le Carré ‘almost defected’ is hard to draw.

  3. Pingback: Journalism.co.uk Editors’ Blog » Blog Archive » Update: Le Carré’s past - as told on the web

  4. rod liddle

    I’ve just noticed this; apologies for not having done so sooner. Ms Townend is wrong on several counts: most importantly, Le Carre did not accuse me of misrepresenting him, but suggested that my newspaper had done so by taking his quotes out of context for a news story and headline (as correctly reported by Private Eye).

    I never use a tape recorder for interviews; I use shorthand, as I was trained to do. If you read the original piece you will see that the quotes are absolutely in context and that Le Carre’s explanation is carried in full. Le Carre protests too much, I think; but that is no excuse for you lot mucking it up.

  5. Judith Townend Post author

    Hi Rod,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Following your comments, I have added ‘he was misrepresented’ in the original post above.

    I was writing with reference to Le Carre’s letter to the Sunday Times, in which he referred to his interview with you, and wrote:

    “He must be forgiven therefore if, while he too was sipping post-prandial Calvados in the evening darkness he describes, he failed to encompass or indeed record the general point I was making about the temptations of defection.”

    Although I did link to the letter in full, I am now including the part of the letter that referred to the editorial judgement, which said:

    “Only when traduced by your editors does it acquire such disproportionate and damaging significance.”

    In his opening sentence of the letter he writes to the editor:

    “In your presentation of my interview with Rod Liddle dated 14th September 2008, you misrepresent me on two fronts…”

    TimesOnline linked this to the interview, not the news article.

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