John Le Carre, best known for his Cold War spy fiction which he raised to a literary art – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Night Manager, The Perfect Gardener – has died aged 89.
Born David Cornwell on 19 October 1931, he had an extraordinary childhood with his mother bolting when he was six leaving his brother and himself with their father, Ronnie Cornwell, described as “ a charming, colourful, larger-than-life confidence trickster, a fantasist and a womaniser, briefly imprisoned in several parts of the world, who left a trail of unpaid debts, false names, bogus letterheads, perplexed women, unsuccessful racehorses, luxurious motor cars and dubious financial schemes.” The two boys had to share his lies: “To run the household with no money required a lot of serious lying to the local garage man, the local butcher, the local everybody.”
Ronnie used them to get himself out of trouble. David and his older brother, Tony, developed skills in observation and reading between the lines, targeted at their father. In turn Ronnie kept his boys under constant surveillance, listening to their phone calls, searching their rooms, opening their mail. Life with Ronnie was an apprenticeship in espionage.
In later years having served in MI5 (counter intelligence) and MI6, Le Carre speculated that ‘the habit of keeping secrets about his father had accustomed him to the blanket of protection which membership of a secret community confers, and that working in a confidential capacity for the government offered a combination of propriety and subversion to match his curious upbringing.’
He only met his mother once after her departure when he was 21 but the rift was never healed. His father despite his appalling behaviour held a place in his affections till the end, despite latterly trying to tap into his son’s royalties.
Le Carre was a Sun Mercury in Libra with the signature tough-as-nails Great Depression aspects of Pluto opposition Saturn square Uranus tied into his Sun; with his Pluto in a dourly determined trine to Mars in Scorpio; and his Jupiter in an adventurous square to Mars and trine to Uranus. His Moon was in Aquarius almost certainly square Venus in Scorpio and maybe opposition Jupiter in Leo – which is odd with an estranged mother, though houses might be more descriptive if the birth time was known. But his father was the overwhelming influence in his life, tying him in with a controlling Sun square Pluto and Saturn, despite his wayward Uranian lifestyle.
A genealogy website has his father’s birthdate as 4 November 1905 which looks feasible, giving Ronnie a Scorpio Sun conjunct Le Carre’s Venus and Ronnie’s Venus in Libra widely conjunct Le Carre’s Sun which suggests an affectionate bond. Though the conflicting cross overs between each’s Mars to the other’s Saturn hint at the other more aggravating side of their chemistry.
Their relationship chart had the classic paranoid signature of Saturn opposition Neptune square Sun, so it would veer between an illusory connection and discouragement; with an affectionate Sun Venus; and a super-confident, struggle for the upper hand Sun trine Jupiter Pluto. Quite a mix.
Le Carre was an acute observer of the political and wider social scene, with a cynical distrust of authority figures and government and a nuanced, at times jaundiced, view of the split between the good guys and the bad guys. His spies weren’t heroic James Bonds in Armani suits. One of his characters remarks ‘“Spies? They’re a squalid procession of vain fools, sadists and drunkards, people who play cowboys and Indians to brighten their rotten lives.”
The British scene will be poorer for his passing. He had a prominent though strained writer’s 21st harmonic; a super-obsessive 11H; a victim/healer 12H and a notable leaving-a-legacy-for-history 17H.