In the name of full-disclosure, I cheated. I didn’t read this 320-paged Autobiography/ Memoir, but rather, downloaded it through Audible and listened to it read by the author himself. I think it made the book better this way.
I became interested in this novel when during an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross of Fresh Air, Carre’ commented (paraphrased) that it was having been raised by his con-man father that made spying come naturally to him.
John le Carre’ is the author of many spy/espionage novels (turned movies) such as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Soldier, Tailor, Spy, among many others. Le Carre’ himself is an ex-British spy having spent time working with secret organizations including MI6 (MI6 as in James Bond). He claims, however, that he is a novelist who once worked as a spy and not a spy who became a novelist.
This book was disappointing. I was expecting a deep-sea diving expedition about Carre’s life but experienced snorkeling in a swimming pool instead. What was it like being a spy, having a con-artist father, being abandoned at the age of 5 by his mother, and juggling identities between being an ordinary person, a spy, and a novelist? He doesn’t really say.
The Pigeon Tunnel is made up of snippets of stories throughout his life and not in any particular order. It had the feeling of him being interviewing where randomness was the thread to his memories.
It was well written, that’s obvious, and Carre’ uses a mixture of highbrow sarcasm and wit along with literary skill. However, I wish he didn’t skirt around his extraordinary life. He met Yasser Arafat! He knew Spy defectors! He was a real-life James Bond! He counts Obi-wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) as a best friend! However, it seems, from this memoir, he doesn’t quite get that.
Although I enjoyed when he made connections between his book characters and their real-life inspirations, my favorite part was a small chapter towards the end, where he talks about his father, Ronnie Cornwell, and his cons. I also liked the explanation of the title of this book, The Pigeon Tunnel, which is equivalent to the American expression of shooting fish in a barrel.
Overall, the idea of John le Carre’ (his alias) is much more fascinating than how David Cornwell (his real name) describes him.