Secrets of LeCarre

photo: John le Carré has lived in Cornwall for four decades and declines most interview requests. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Rex Features

Writer and occasional spy, John LeCarre has published his autobiography, The Pigeon Tunnel.

John le Carré was beaten up by his father and grew up mostly starved of affection after his mother abandoned him at the age of five, he reveals in his hugely awaited autobiography The Pigeon Tunnel, serialised in the Guardian.

Le Carré – one of the greatest novelists of the postwar era – gives a definitive account of his life as a writer and sometime MI6 agent. He insists he is an author who “once happened to be a spy” rather than a “spy who turned to writing”.

His memoir details the extraordinary first-hand research and relentless travel that underpins his long career and literary success. Le Carré gives amusing and at times lacerating pen portraits of Margaret Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch and Yasser Arafat, as well as a kaleidoscope of other cultural and political figures.

The most personal passages cover Le Carré’s fraught relationship with his father, Ronnie, whom he describes as a “conman, fantasist [and] occasional jailbird”. Ronnie was an erratic presence in his childhood and adulthood, he writes, who beat up his mother, Olive, prompting her to “bolt”.

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