Author(s): Adam Sisman
Over half a century since The Spy Who came in from the Cold made John le Carré a worldwide, bestselling sensation, David Cornwell, the man behind the pseudonym, remains an enigma. He has consistently quarried his life for his writing, and his novels seem to offer tantalizing glimpses of their author - but in the narrative of his life fact and fiction have become intertwined, and little is really known of one of the world's most successful writers. In Cornwell's lonely childhood Adam Sisman uncovers the origins of the themes of love and abandonment which have dominated le Carré's fiction: the departure of his mother when he was five, followed by 'sixteen hugless years' in the dubious care of his father, a man of energy and charm, a serial seducer and conman who hid the Bentleys in the trees when the bailiffs came calling - a 'totally incomprehensible father' who could 'put a hand on your shoulder and the other in your pocket, both gestures equally sincere'. And in Cornwell's adult life - from recruitment by both MI5 and MI6, through marriage and family life, to his emergence as the master of the spy novel - Sisman explores the idea of espionage and its significance in human terms; the extent to which betrayal is acceptable in exchange for love; and the endless need for forgiveness, especially from oneself. Written with exclusive access to David Cornwell himself, to his private archive and to the most important people in his life - family, friends, enemies, intelligence ex-colleagues and ex-lovers - and featuring a wealth of previously unseen photographic material, Adam Sisman's extraordinarily insightful and constantly revealing biography brings in from the cold a man whose own life has been as complex and confounding and filled with treachery as any of his novels. 'I'm a liar,' Cornwell has written. 'Born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practised in it as a novelist.' This is the definitive biography of a major writer, described by Ian McEwan as 'perhaps the most significant novelist of the second half of the twentieth century in Britain'.
The definitive, fascinating biography of one of the world's most famous living writers, a man whose own true history has long been hidden behind the fictional world of his books
Shortlisted for Crimefest H. R. F. Keating Award 2016.
Ultimately it's about love ... this is a very emotional book. John le Carre had an utterly heartbreaking childhood ... This is the best biography of 2015 - a rare achievement that invites rereading -- Edward Wilson Independent Compendious and compelling...Sisman is excellent at the nuts and bolts of writing and of being published...it must be difficult to write the life of a man who is still very much with us, and in the public eye, no matter how much liberty the biographer has been given to tell the story, warts and all. Sisman - a very fine and astute biographer - has done an excellent, not to say exemplary, job under the circumstances ... it is impossible to imagine this Life being bettered -- William Boyd New Statesman This is the way to do it. Why this admirably balanced, patiently detailed biography of John le Carre is not on the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction shortlist beats me ... Sisman does full justice to [the] rawness at the heart of le Carre -- David Sexton Evening Standard A perfect biography Robert Harris on An Honourable Englishman A wonderfully absorbing book Alan Bennett on An Honourable Englishman By miles the best biography I have read this year Max Hastings on An Honourable Englishman Admirable Financial Times Balanced, focused and compelling Economist The spy novelist's life is explored and explained with immaculate care and attention to detail Sunday Times This book is testament to Sisman's skill and perseverance ... With his excellent grasp of the wider history, Sisman is good at anchoring Cornwell in this shadowy environment, as he guides his readers through the models for various characters ... Sisman brings admirable clarity to what could have been a meander in a wilderness of mirrors -- Andrew Lycett Spectator A perceptive and elegant interpreter of complex lives -- Jonathan Dimbleby Radio Times Excellent ... Shows how memory, fact and fiction have danced in Le Carre's life ... [A] masterful biography Catholic Morning Herald Absorbing new doorstopper Western Morning News Sisman often came to know the reality of what happened in Cornwell's life better than Cornwell himself did Newsweek Respectful though far from sycophantic - Best Books of 2015 -- Gaby Wood Daily Telegraph This riveting, thorough biography reveals the real world of Cornwell to be every bit as fascinating as his much-loved fiction. The perfect Christmas present for the le Carre fan in your life Sunday Times Cornwell has admitted that he can no longer separate many of the facts of his life from his lies and fictions. For Sisman this is like a red rag to a bull and you can feel the thrill of the chase throughout his terrific John le Carre Independent However gripping John le Carre's novels ... Hang onto your hats, because the author's real life story is equally thrilling. Biographer Adam Sisman peels back layers of le Carre to reveal David Cornwall ... This is a masterpiece of storytelling and factual revelations Compass Fascinating Metro John le Carre will not be the final word on this subject but it could hardly be bettered -- Robert McCrum Observer Sisman pulls it off: this is a well-written and highly readable book which is neither hagiography nor hatchet job ... Within that world he [John le Carre] conveys some of the truths of human nature, endeavour and fallibility. This is a real and rare achievement and in Adam Sisman he has a biographer worthy of it -- Alan Judd Times Literary Supplement Absorbing ... An insightful and highly readable portrait of a writer and a man who has often been classified as elusive and enigmatic as his fictional heroes -- Michiko Kakutani New York Times Perceptive, entertaining Guardian, 'Book of the Day' Extraordinary, absorbing ... The most enthralling life of a writer I've read since I found myself riveted by Samuel Johnson's Life of Milton 40 odd years ago ... [A] magnificent book about an extraordinary man ... Nothing about him [John le Carre] is more shrewd and wise and self-revealing than this superb biography he has elicited from Sisman Australian Excellent Choice magazine A masterpiece Irish Examiner, 'Books of the Year' Meticulous and illuminating ... Thankfully, his biography stops well short of hagiography Tablet [Sisman's] revealing biography, written in blessedly readable prose, makes a three-dimensional figure of a subject who can come across as something of a superman Daily Telegraph
Adam Sisman is an award-winning writer, author of Boswell's Presumptuous Task, shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and winner of the US National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and biographer of A. J. P. Taylor and Hugh Trevor-Roper. He is an Honorary Fellow of the University of St Andrews and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in Bristol.