The Other Tradecraft

Writing, more than espionage, is the subject of le Carré’s memoir—all the better for his fans.

“These are true stories told from memory,” John le Carré writes in his introduction to this wide-ranging collection of personal anecdotes drawn from a lifetime of living and writing. But, he cautions, “was there ever such a thing as pure memory? I doubt it. Even when we convince ourselves that we’re being dispassionate, sticking to the bald facts with no self-serving decorations or omissions, pure memory remains as elusive as a bar of wet soap.”

There is a certain charm in watching a master storyteller set himself up as the unreliable narrator of tales from his own life. But do we, his die-hard fans, really care? Most of us would agree with him that “real truth lies, if anywhere, not in facts, but in nuance.” And after all, it is his mastery of nuance that turns his novels of espionage, intrigue and corporate skullduggery into more than mere thrillers.

As its subtitle suggests, this new book—his 24th—is neither autobiography...