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There have been warm tributes to the British novelist John le Carré who has died at the age of 89. The celebrated author of the spy novels Funeral in Berlin, The Spy who came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy passed away on 12 December from pneumonia after a short battle with the illness.
Mary Mount, his editor at Penguin Random House for the last ten years of his life, said: “The death of John le Carré is a huge loss to all of us who loved and admired him at Penguin Random House and to the cultural and political landscape of this country. John le Carré was a writer who cared almost as deeply about his country as he did about his work. It was a huge thrill and privilege to work with him over the last ten years. The quality of his writing never waned across a truly enviable collection of novels and his capacity for hard work was extraordinary. He also made me laugh, a lot.”
Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK, said: “It has been a great honour for all of us at Penguin Random House to be John le Carré’s publishers. His contribution to this country cannot be overstated and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. His work will be read and loved for many generations to come.”
Jonny Geller, CEO of The Curtis Brown Group and le Carre’s agent said: “John le Carré was an undisputed giant of English literature. He defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power in the decades that followed. His work was read and loved all over the world for six decades. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in 1963 made him the most famous spy writer in the world. His greatest character – George Smiley – appeared in several novels including the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy & Smiley’s People. I represented David for almost 15 years. I have lost a mentor, an inspiration and most importantly, a friend. We will not see his like again.”
Le Carré drew on his own experiences working for MI6 during the Cold War years, though his novels transcended the genre of spy novels to become celebrated works of fiction in their own right. In September 2018 all of his backlist was published under the Penguin Modern Classics livery, becoming one of the largest bodies of work by a contemporary writer on the Modern Classics list. Penguin Random House said: “Over an extraordinary writing career le Carré proved himself to be the unsurpassed chronicler of our age. He was superb company: a man of great humour and curiosity, always alert to the frailties of the human condition. He was a wonderful mimic – in one moment inhabiting the character of his father, and the next a perfect Alec Guinness [the actor who played George Smiley in the film adaptations].
“One of his most compelling talents was to be able to get to the core of people very quickly. It was, perhaps, that skill that made his characters live so vividly on the page. It was also this clarity of thought that enabled him to understand and reflect our society with such precision and with prose that was, as the Financial Times put it, ‘as recognisable as Dickens or Austen’. However, as much as Cornwell could be enormously lively company, he was happiest when in his study in St Buryan, [in Cornwall] working on his next book.”
In 2018 he was awarded the Olof Palme Prize for outstanding achievement in the spirit of the assassinated Swedish prime minister. The judges awarded him the prize in recognition of a body of work that engaged with ‘the freedom of the individual and the fundamental issues of mankind’.
Le Carré, whose real name was David Cornwell, wrote 26 books and has 47 publishers spanning the globe. He is published in Arabic by Da Altanweer.