‘Love… is whatever you can still betray’: John le Carre in quotes

From the art of spying to questions of morality, the acclaimed author, who has died aged 89, was a powerful voice

British author John Le Carre at the UK film premiere of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," in London, September 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)
British author John Le Carre at the UK film premiere of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," in London, September 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)

John le Carre in quotes:


“Intelligence work has one moral law — it is justified by results.”

– “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” (1963)

Love hurts

“Do you know what love is? I’ll tell you: it is whatever you can still betray.”

– Adrian Haldane, in “The Looking Glass War” (1965)

Hidden truths

“The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal.”

– “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (1974)

Theory and practice

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.”

– “The Honourable Schoolboy” (1977)

Search for a cause

“You are a perfect spy. All you need is a cause.”

– Axel, the Czech spymaster, addressing Magnus Pym, in “A Perfect Spy” (1986)

Marx to money

“Now we had defeated Communism, we were going to have to set about defeating capitalism.”

– Ned, the main character in “The Secret Pilgrim” (1990).

Iraq war

“America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.”

– Commentary by Le Carre in the Times newspaper in January 2003 in the buildup to the Iraq War.

Varied career

“Apart from spying, I have in my time sold bathtowels, got divorced, washed elephants, run away from school, decimated a flock of Welsh sheep with a twenty-five pound shell because I was too stupid to understand the gunnery officer’s instructions, taught children in a special school.”

From the author’s website

Why le Carre?
“I was asked so many times why I chose this ridiculous name, then the writer’s imagination came to my help. I saw myself riding over Battersea Bridge, on top of a bus, looking down at a tailor’s shop… And it was called something of this sort —- le Carré. That satisfied everybody for years. But lies don’t last with age. I find a frightful compulsion towards truth these days. And the truth is, I don’t know.”

– Interview with The Paris Review, 1996

Old school 
“I hate the telephone. I can’t type. I ply my trade by hand. I live on a Cornish cliff and hate cities. Three days and nights in a city are about my maximum.”

– From the author’s website

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