The unadorned politics that characterized this later period — and a newfound activism that included joining demonstrations and writing angry editorials — alienated some readers. But only some. In 2011, a new movie adaptation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” — the second in the Karla trilogy and the account of Smiley’s painstaking unmasking of a Kim Philby-esqe Soviet mole working at the Circus — brought renewed interest in Mr. le Carré’s work and sent backlist sales soaring.
‘A Feat of Stamina’ at 88
“Le Carré is still writing at something close to the top of his game,” Dwight Garner wrote in The New York Times Magazine, speaking of “A Delicate Truth” (2013), the author’s 23rd novel, which he called “an elegant yet embittered indictment of extraordinary rendition, American right-wing evangelical excess and the corporatization of warfare.”
His last novel, another spy thriller, titled “Agent Running in the Field,” was published in October 2019, prompting Robert McCrum of The Guardian to write, “Publishing such a thriller at the age of 88, a feat of imaginative stamina that surpasses the tenacity of his idol Graham Greene, le Carré confirms his place at the head of his profession.”
Wry, dryly funny, patrician, a great mimic, a seasoned anecdotalist, handsome into old age, his spoken sentences as beautifully constructed as his written ones, a lover of the crystalline prose and perfect plotting of P.G. Wodehouse, Mr. le Carré charmed the armies of interviewers who came to his cliff top house in Cornwall, where he liked to go for long walks. (He lived part-time in Hampstead, London, but avoided the literary social scene.) Spies came to visit, too, treating him like a kind of oracle for their own profession.
He said he would never accept a knighthood or other state honor, though there were offers. “I don’t want to be Sir David, Lord David, King David,” he said. “I don’t want any of those things. I find it absolutely fatuous.”
His first marriage, to Ann Sharp, ended in divorce in 1971.
His married Valerie Jane Eustace, a book editor, in 1972; she later served as keeper of the schedule and typist of the manuscripts and general provider of sound counsel for her husband. Their son, Nicholas, became a successful novelist, too, writing under the name Nick Harkaway.
They both survive him, as do his three sons from his first marriage, Simon, Stephen and Timothy.
In later years, Mr. le Carré delighted in his extended family and found a new domestic happiness. He displayed on the wall of his office a gift from his children, a poster playing on the famous motivational one in World War II Britain, reading, “Keep Calm and le Carré on.”
He toyed for years with whether to allow a biographer access to his papers, his friends and himself, accustomed as he was to so many layers of secrecy, even in his own life. “I’m horrified at the notion of autobiography,” he once said, “because I’m already constructing the lies I’m going to tell.”